Traverse City Business News | Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust & Connection, No Matter the Distance

Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust & Connection, No Matter the Distance

Digital Body Language

How to Build Trust & Connection, No Matter the Distance

By Erica Dhawan

Reviewed by Chris Wendel

As the effects of the COVID pandemic continue to reshape the way we work, the means for communicating with co-workers and customers have been altered. Communicating is challenging without in-person meetings, especially when email and texting styles differ.

Fortunately, “Digital Body Language” addresses new situations that many of us find ourselves in at work. Written by recognized management expert Erica Dhawan, the book is part best practices for workplace communication, part memoir.

Dhawan was born to Indian immigrant parents near Pittsburgh. Adjusting with her parents to a new culture and language created an opportunity for Dhawan to learn the subtleties of nonverbal cues and communication. She carried this skill into college and her professional work as a widely recognized writer, speaker and leadership expert.

Released earlier this year, “Digital Body Language” dives into differences in age and work styles. Throw in virtual work and it’s no wonder that things get lost in translation. Dhawan discusses in thoughtful, relatable ways both the benefits and pitfalls of digital communication, recommending common sense choices for anyone who has fretted over a keyboard, concerned with the context or nuance of their online messaging.

“Digital Body Language” is organized into chapters or “laws” that help readers navigate work and recognize blind spots. The chapter “Value Visibly” focuses on situational awareness that takes stock of others. This could mean attending or starting meetings (virtual or other) on time, realizing that technology behind a screen creates masks that hinder us.

In the case of a virtual Zoom meeting, it’s harder to read a room if no one is physically in the room. For virtual meetings, Dhawan suggests techniques such as sending out an agenda prior so the team can think through talking points and potential questions. This along with taking chat questions and calling on those who haven’t had a chance to speak up during the meeting keeps everyone involved and invested.

Dhawan details the need to be clear and concise with messaging through myriad channels used within work groups. The idea is to eliminate ambiguity, while recognizing the value of each team member. Beyond the consideration of different communication styles, adding new technology should be done cautiously. Dhawan explains that adding a new channel for work groups should be implemented only when it’s a superior replacement for something that is not working well (i.e., Slack replacing emails for more focused team work).

Dhawan also explains how generational experiences using punctuation can produce significant misunderstandings in a text or email. For example, placing a period at the end of a sentence is thought to be good punctuation for an older cohort, but appears passive-aggressive to a younger co-worker. The book reveals how gender bias plays into digital communications, with women feeling pressured to soften up their messages with emojis and exclamation points to not come off as overly assertive.

It’s imperative for group leaders to model how different tools should be used. If a co-worker incessantly texts you as their preferred method of communicating, the urgency and context of the text is lost. It might be best to respond to the texter with an email to reset the tone for future conversations. This is not to say that traditional communications should be forgotten. Dhawan points out that despite digital technology’s advantages, “A phone call is worth a thousand emails.”

“Digital Body Language” serves as a practical guide for both managers and team members to rethink their workplace. Dhawan draws on her past experiences and expertise to explain today’s digital challenges, while presenting effective solutions for working with others. Readers will likely relate to Dhawan’s overarching message: “The reality is that body language hasn’t disappeared, it is transformed.”

Chris Wendel works virtually for Northern Initiatives, a community development financial institution (CDFI) based in Marquette, Michigan. Northern Initiatives provides money and assistance to businesses throughout Michigan. Wendel lives and works in Traverse City and can be reached at:






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