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Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Book Review: Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection, No Matter the Distance by Erica Dhawan

Are you and/or your employees working from home? No? What crazy world are you living in and you really should join the rest of us. For the vast majority of us who are, this book could not be more pertinent. Although even before the pandemic, 90% of my communication with my accounts and colleagues was through email and the occasional text, so it's still pertinent, even after the world returns to "normal," whatever that is.

This book is filled with fantastic advice on how to better communicate using digital methods, whether in print (email/text/IM) or video call (Zoom/Google Meet/Skype). In these communications we lose a lot of body language we used to have in person. In email we lose tone of voice, in video calls we sometimes lose the very language itself as connections cut in and out. And if we want to communicate effectively and efficiently, we should learn better how these methods best work. 

According to Ms. Dhawan, there's not one that's better, and they work for different people and different situations. Sometimes a particular scenario will be better addressed through one method over another (if something is becoming convoluted and/or tense in email, it's often best just to pick up the phone and call) but she points out that these methods that not everyone likes, have advantages for others. Introverts are having better communication and are able to "speak up" more through chat and email than previously in in-person meetings, for example.

I really appreciated the tips that broke down generational differences. The day after I finished reading this, a colleague who is a Millennial apologized for not responding to a text for an hour ("I left you hanging!") I told her not to worry about it and I nearly said "It's okay, I'm Gen X. I grew up with answering machines." But it's true. Younger generations, or as Ms. Dhawan calls them--technology natives (the rest of us are technology adapters) interact with technology differently. I was shocked to learn (and have since confirmed with a few younger friends) that a text that reads, "Fine." or "Thanks." is considered rude or cold. It's that period after the single word. Now, as a former editor, I can't not do a period. And the more savvy of the tech-natives will give me a pass. But it's good to be aware on both sides. Also because of the tech-natives' sensitivity to wait times, I am now much more likely to respond to an email right away--just to tell the person I can't answer their question but I'm working on it--rather than waiting until I have the answer to respond (not always though--I already send emails over 100 every day.) The section at the end about running virtual meetings was something more for managers that I tended to skim, but it still had interesting anecdotes and things to think about. She also discusses differences in communication between countries and cultures that might not be obvious until digital amplifies them. 

I rad business books super-rarely (they're just not my cup of tea) but I read this one eagerly and quickly, and have implemented advice from it even before I was done reading.

This book is published by St. Martin's Press, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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