What Your Zoom Body Lan­guage Says About You

Vis­ual Sig­nals in On­line Meet­ings

Newsweek - - Contents - BY DORIE CLARK @dorieclark

We all un­der­stand the im­por­tance of body lan­guage at work—the way that a col­league’s crossed arms might con­vey hos­til­ity or a man­ager’s feet on the desk might be an at­tempt to show dom­i­nance. But how does that trans­late into the dig­i­tal realm, now that so many of us are work­ing from home and con­duct­ing so much of our busi­ness lives through on­line video?

That’s where Erica Dhawan comes in. Erica is the au­thor of Get Big Things Done and the forth­com­ing Dig­i­tal

Body Lan­guage, and re­cently joined me on my weekly Newsweek in­ter­view show Bet­ter (Thurs­days 12 p.m. ET/9 a.m. PT) to dis­cuss how pro­fes­sion­als can com­mu­ni­cate more ef­fec­tively when they’re op­er­at­ing dig­i­tally. She shared the fol­low­ing four tips.

Dig­i­tal body lan­guage isn’t just about your body.

You might imag­ine that the phrase “dig­i­tal body lan­guage” sim­ply refers to your fa­cial ex­pres­sions when you’re on Zoom. Of course, you want to make sure you’re not scowl­ing on cam­era or look­ing bored, Dhawan says, but dig­i­tal body lan­guage is a much broader con­cept.

As she notes, “Dig­i­tal body lan­guage is [about] the cues and sig­nals that we send in our dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tion that make up the sub­text of our mes­sages. So it’s ev­ery­thing from the sub­ject line that we use [in our emails] to our re­sponse time: Did we re­ply in two min­utes or in five min­utes or in five days?” Even sub­tle choices, like whether you CC or BCC some­one, or the punc­tu­a­tion you use and whether it seems abrupt, are part of the con­text in which your mes­sages are re­ceived. In other words, the choice to ad­dress a mes­sage as “Dear Erica” vs. “Hey Erica!” is part of how we “project through the body of our lan­guage,” ac­cord­ing to Dhawan.

Read­ing care­fully is the new lis­ten­ing.

No­body likes it when you’re in a meet­ing and a col­league seems to be tun­ing out or not pay­ing at­ten­tion. That’s true on a video chat, as well. But Dhawan says the same prin­ci­ple now ex­tends to writ­ten com­mu­ni­ca­tion, which has be­come so much more preva­lent dur­ing work-fromhome. She cites the ex­am­ple of one ex­ec­u­tive who sent a text mes­sage to his boss, Tom, ask­ing, “Do you want to speak Wed­nes­day or Thurs­day?” And Tom’s re­sponse to that was “yes.” That cre­ated con­fu­sion and wasted time with ad­di­tional fol­low-up.

Then too, Dhawan says, that care­less­ness can cause peo­ple to lose trust in their lead­ers. Con­versely, she says, “If you’re show­ing that you’ve read things, that will lead to a whole new level of un­der­stand­ing, col­lab­o­ra­tion and trust in your work en­vi­ron­ments.”

Not ev­ery­thing has to be on video.

You might think it’s a good idea to have all your meet­ings on video, in or­der to max­i­mize en­gage­ment. That’s true up to a point, says Dhawan—but screen fa­tigue is real, and video isn’t a panacea: “In video com­mu­ni­ca­tion, there are a lot of nu­ances. There are

screen freezes, or you’re on mute, or there are in­ter­rup­tions that can get in the way of psy­cho­log­i­cal safety when peo­ple are brain­storm­ing ideas.”

“There’s also the fact that it’s not nat­u­ral for us to ac­tu­ally see our own video on the cam­era, while we’re try­ing to talk to other peo­ple,” Dhawan says. This can be par­tic­u­larly jar­ring for in­tro­verts, who may feel pres­sure to be “on,” if they’re on cam­era. As an an­ti­dote, she rec­om­mends pri­or­i­tiz­ing whether a meet­ing should take place via video—not all of them have to—and hold­ing some via phone, or even just hav­ing an email ex­change if the topic is straight­for­ward. If a meet­ing does rise to the level of video, she ad­vises hold­ing it be­fore 2 p.m., “so peo­ple don’t have that Zoom ex­haus­tion later in the day.”

Don’t be afraid to adapt your style.

Just as you’d likely ad­just your phys­i­cal body lan­guage for var­i­ous cir­cum­stances, Dhawan says you should do the same dig­i­tally. “In face-to-face,

“Screen fa­tigue is real, and video isn’t a panacea.”

tra­di­tional body lan­guage,” she says, “if you’re meet­ing some­one for the first time, you may shake their hand, greet them with di­rect eye con­tact and sit down at the ta­ble with a clear agenda to run through a meet­ing with a Pow­erpoint pre­sen­ta­tion.” In con­trast, she notes, “If you’re meet­ing with some­one that you’ve known for a long time, you may see them and hug them.”

Sim­i­larly, “If you’re meet­ing some­one that you’ve never met be­fore, and maybe they’re se­nior to you in a com­pany or some­one you’re try­ing to sell some­thing to, you would send an email to their as­sis­tant to get on their cal­en­dar. You wouldn’t just send them a quick text.” Mean­while, “If this is some­one who is a long-time col­league or your as­sis­tant or team­mate, you may just jump on the phone be­cause you’re run­ning around while home­school­ing your kid, or you send a one­liner email say­ing, ‘Call me right now.’” There’s no uni­ver­sal right or wrong way to han­dle dig­i­tal body lan­guage, she says—only right or wrong for a given set of cir­cum­stances, and we should adapt ac­cord­ingly.

We’re all liv­ing in a dig­i­tal world now, so it’s even more im­por­tant to be clear on the mes­sages we’re send­ing. By fol­low­ing th­ese strate­gies, we can re­gain con­trol over our dig­i­tal body lan­guage and how we’re per­ceived.

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