Have you ever had a negative reaction to an email or text message you sent? Have you ever misunderstood a message you received? Were you ever disappointed by an email reply from a colleague in response to a request you sent them?
When email was first created, the intent was to replace paper letters. When text messaging was created, it was to communicate information such as “I’m running late”, or “Can you meet at 11am?” We now use these tools for conversations (and some might say – overuse them for communication). In-person communication involves visual, verbal and vocal modes. Communication in the digital world usually compromises at least one of these modes.
Professor Albert Mehrabian, best known for his publications on the relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages, constructed psychological measures of communication in feelings and attitudes. The combined statistical results of two studies** concluded the now famous—and famously misused—rule that communication is only 7% verbal and 93% non-verbal. The non-verbal component was made up of body language (55%) and tone of voice (38%). Mehrabrian has stated “this equation only applies to a communicator talking about their feelings and/or attitudes.“ This is where emotional intelligence comes into play.
As our modern workplaces are increasingly digitally focused it is becoming even more difficult to express clearly what you say, what you mean and how it is received. We still want our messages received with the right intent and not trigger unwanted emotional reactions. Even though digital communication lacks visual body language, there are still digital cues we can use to minimise risk of miscommunication, and unintended reactions. It is important to learn the signals of digital body language to find better ways to connect.
Here are our top 3 digital body language tips you can use to ensure your message is clear and received in the way you want:
- Write your message as if you are the receiver: When writing a message, consider how the message will be received by others. Write your message as the receiver, rather than the sender. What elements of your message are important to the receiver? For example, if a colleague has taken the time to email you a detailed plan for your next project meeting, would they like a response from you just saying “Thanks”? Or would they like your feedback, maybe some positive comments on how much you like their work? Even when you are busy, take a moment to reflect and write your message based on how you would like it to be received. Consider these 2 questions before hitting “send”: Did I give enough context for what the receiver needs from me? Is my message clear? Remember what you write is not always what people read.So, write from the readers point of view.
- Consider your response time: While the context of your message is important, so too is the timing of your response. The time of your response sends a digital body language signal to your receiver. For example: Taking too long to reply to an email could indicate a lack of time management or not caring about the topic of the message. Equally replying late at night or on weekends, could set an unrealistic expectation to others they should be working outside of normal office hours too. In the long term these actions can impact team dynamics which can lead to a breakdown in relationships. Consider setting expectations and agreements about response times. eg: No communication after a certain time, unless an emergency (and provide emergency examples).
- Proofread for the correct use of punctuation, abbreviation and emoji’s. The rapid pace we communicate means we sometimes do not take the time to proof-read our messages. or become too reliant on smiley faces or acronyms. This ends up making more work down the track trying to fix the errors from miscommunication. Just to be clear, professional business standards do not favour emoji’s in documents, emails, texts.Yet, they are becoming more pervasive.If emoji’s have become more acceptable in your workplace be conservative on how you use them. Poor punctuation can indicate a lack of attention to detail, or possibly incorrect information being received. For example, the overuse of exclamation marks can read “anger” or show heightened excitement. This may not be suitable for the message you are really trying to send.
Just because we work in a virtual world does not mean we need to always use virtual communication. Sometimes it is just as important to pick up the phone, video chat or meet in person. It can save time, especially when the topic is important. After all we probably all know what email/or messaging ping pong is like. Just talk!
All these methods combined builds stronger, healthier relations between colleagues, clients, and teams.
Enjoyed these tips? We can help with tangible tools and support. Join us for our next workshops:
*Also available as a live, facilitator-led virtual training course