Welcome to Leading Disruption, a weekly letter about disruptive leadership in a transforming world. Every week we’ll discover how the best leaders set strategy, build culture, and manage uncertainty all in service of driving disruptive, transformative growth.
The digital age is not going anywhere. But something I know we’re all conscious of is the need for connection and clear communication — and many of us feel these are hard to foster when our teams are fully remote or hybrid.
Why is there so much misunderstanding at work? How do we better connect across different ages and working styles?
These were among the questions that prompted my friend and colleague Erica Dhawan to write her new book, Digital Body Language. I have to be honest with you: this book has been disrupting my mind!
Erica joined me on my live show (here’s the replay) to talk about the importance of disrupting the digital age with thoughtful, intentional, digital body language. As Erica put it:
“We’re all immigrants to digital body language, and we need a rulebook for how to understand this new language.”
Digital Body Language is the rulebook, and Erica was kind enough to join me and my audience of disruptive leaders to share the biggest takeaways from her book:
Reading is the New Listening
I love Erica’s point that reading carefully is the new listening, and writing clearly is the new empathy.
I wrote last week that today’s thriving leaders must practice empathy, and Erica’s story illustrates how poor digital communication can hurt a leader’s perceived empathy:
Erica worked with a woman who got some performance review scores that her empathy was weak. When Erica looked for all the markers of poor empathy (lack of listening, a lack of deep questioning, a lack of paying attention) she found that in face-to-face meetings, this woman was brilliant at empathy!
But when Erica dug into her digital body language she found that the client would cancel meetings last minute, send brief, low-context messages like “we need to talk…” (yikes!), and email on weekends without clarifying to her team that she didn’t expect a response. While her traditional body language signaled deep empathy, her digital body language signals were abysmal.
You can’t get away with showing empathy in traditional body language only. We must master the skills of digital body language to build a culture of empathy and respect and showcase that we’re listening and that we value each other.
3 Ways to Build Digital Trust when Mistakes are Inevitable
It’s clear how thoughtful digital communication improves empathy and relationships.
But what about when you make mistakes? Or if you’re new to digital body language, how do you address shortcomings you may observe in your habits?
Erica shares three terrific tips for continuing to build trust and improve on our digital body language:
- Assume good intent and create a culture where everyone gets the benefit of the doubt. Messages can feel ambiguous or passive-aggressive to you, but check your interpretation before you respond. And know when to switch the medium. As Erica says, “picking up the phone is worth 1000 emails.”
- Practice virtual water cooler moments. This is just as important in hybrid meetings as in fully remote ones. Creating spaces for those drive-by coffee chats is not a nice-to-have but a must-have. These could look like virtual office hours, group coworking sessions, or questions you asked at the end of monthly meetings so everyone can share their wins. These interpersonal moments break down barriers and allow everyone to feel engaged.
- Show your vulnerabilities. Technology can create masks. The more leaders share not just what we know but what we don’t know, the more others will feel the permission to do the same. Feeling anxious? Need help from someone who’s the most junior on your team? Not sure if the upcoming deadline is appropriate? Share with your team! These simple disclosures make it less about me and more about we.
But it’s… Hard!
It’s important to acknowledge that learning a new set of body language tools can feel like a heavy lift! But at the end of the day, Erica emphasized that what’s most important to remember is this: choose thoughtfulness over hastiness.
And join me live tomorrow, Tues. May 18th, for another powerful discussion, this time around the Fallacy of Control in leadership. I’ll be live here on LinkedIn at 9 am PT / 12 pm ET. See you then!
I would love to hear from you:
What changes have you made recently to improve your digital body language and ensure that all voices are heard? Please share your best practices in the comments below. I’ve shared mine — I want to hear yours!
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