Reading messages carefully is the new listening and writing clearly is the new empathy.
Erica Dhawan is an internationally recognized leading authority, author, and advisor on 21st-century teamwork, collaboration, and innovation. Named by Thinkers50 as the “Oprah of Management Thinkers”, she is the author of two books Get Big Things Done: The Power of Connectional Intelligence and Digital Body Language.
This week on Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People, Guy and Erica discuss how to be more thoughtful and communicate better in the digital age. Few things could be more practical in this day-and-age of digital debris and messaging flotsam.
Here’s a critical part of Dhawan’s argument from the podcast.
The mission with writing my new book, Digital Body Language, is to, one, help us understand the signals we’re sending, even if we don’t intend to, and more importantly, try to move to more thoughtfulness and emotional nuance and digital communication.
In many ways, digital body language is like learning a new language. I grew up as an Indian immigrant, and at home, my parents spoke Hindi, which meant at school I had to really struggle and adapt. I had accented English, and so much of my childhood was adapting to American body language as a language.
What I realized was that today, we’re all immigrants to digital body language. There isn’t just one language. We actually all have different languages, just like we have different regional dialects or cultural accents.
We may communicate differently across genders or even age groups. What I think the opportunity is for all of us is to avoid getting caught up or ruminating, and instead remember that there are different languages in digital body language.
For some, a period at the end of a text can signal passive-aggressiveness, especially for digital natives. For others, it’s just good grammar. For others, an all-caps email can feel like shouting. It can feel like excitement, or it can feel like urgency, and if you’re my seventy-five-year-old father, it’s because he doesn’t know how to uncaps an email and his messages.
At the end of the day, we have to remember to not get emotionally hijacked, and that’s a big mission of this book. We have to assume best intent and go back and check if our interpretations are correct, ask ourselves, “Am I using the right medium? Is this person a phone call person versus an endless reply, all chain-type of person?”
Secondly, “Am I being clear in my language?” I like to say reading messages carefully is the new listening and writing clearly is the new empathy. Third, “Am I being thoughtful about tone?” Especially in digital communication, tone can get lost.
We can actually bring it back, whether it’s through an all caps or an exclamation point or an Emoji, or just through deciding that we’re going to write a one-liner, which can signal, “I’m working quickly, or it can also signal that we’re close friends, and I know that you’ll trust me when I’m writing a shortcut message.”
In related news, Gen Z reportedly hates email.
According to a 2020 study from the consulting firm Creative Strategies, there’s a generational gap in primary work tools. The survey found that for those 30 and above, email was among the top tools they used for collaboration. For those under 30, Google Docs was the app workers associated most with collaboration, followed by Zoom and iMessage.
“Part of the whole reason I don’t want to work for someone else is because I don’t want to constantly check my email and make sure my boss didn’t email me,” Adam Simmons, a 24-yeard old video producer, said. “That’s the most stressful thing.”
In a recent survey by the consulting firm Deloitte, 46 percent of Gen Z respondents reported feeling stressed all or most of the time in 2020.