Nir Eyal: Why did you write this book?
Erica Dhawan: We’re experiencing a digital communication crisis. I recently published a research study with Quester on The Digital Communication Crisis to understand the challenges that we all face in workplace digital communication. Through a survey of almost 2,000 office workers we found that over 70% experienced some form of unclear communication from their colleagues. This leads to the average employee wasting 4 hours per week on poor or confusing digital communications, which adds up to an average annual amount of $188B wasted across the American economy.
NE: You’ve done some fascinating research. From what you’ve learned, what surprised you the most?
ED: When I sat down to write this book, I knew that digital body language was important. The majority of information we share and express today happens virtually. Yet I still insisted on framing it in my own brain as a mere complement to traditional, everyday body language. I was wrong. Physical body language and digital body language are inseparable. In fact, digital body language is reshaping physical body language, verbal communication and even the way we’ve begun to think.
Offline and online, at our jobs or at home, our phones have altered the ways we make eye contact. We sometimes find ourselves thinking in terms of hashtags or bullet points. Our impatience levels have gone up. We expect others to get to the point fast. And nowhere is transformation more apparent than in the workplace.
NE: What lessons should people take away from your book regarding how they should design their own behavior or the behavior of others?
ED: As I describe in my book, Digital Body Language, reading carefully is the new listening, writing clearly is the new empathy, and a phone call is worth a thousand emails.
Here are two rules to follow:
- Never confuse brevity with clarity. We all know that feeling you get when you receive an email or IM that just says ‘Call me.’ or ‘We need to talk.’ Brief, low-context messages are simply cryptic. Recipients of unclear messages overthink things in an effort to fill in missing words and absent meanings and it prompts stress and confusion.
- Watch the tone you project–especially when you’re rushing. That could mean everything from limiting your use of all-caps text or excessive emojis while ensuring that you’re sending more than a ‘OK’ to a message. Checking your tone on a practical level just means re-reading your messages before hitting ‘send’ with an eye for how it comes off to others.
NE: Writing a book is hard. What do you do when you find yourself distracted or going off track?
ED: Whenever I would hit a wall and couldn’t stare at my laptop for a minute longer, I would take a short dance break. Those dance breaks became my fun ritual that allowed me to get out of my own head. They not only injected a new burst of energy but often fed my creativity. So, I guess, dancing made me indistractable!
NE: What’s one thing you believe that most people would disagree with?
ED: We are not really as busy as we think we are. So often I hear from friends and colleagues, and sometimes I’m guilty of doing this too, of saying in almost a humble brag, “I’m SO busy right now!” While I totally understand the feeling of stress from professional and personal life, I believe that most of the time, we aren’t as busy as we trick ourselves into thinking. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that by saying we’re really busy we get overwhelmed and then struggle with some of our work and then fall behind and then feel busier… and so on.
I always do my best to simplify everything to the basics. What do I really need to do today? This week? This Month? Then I write out the steps that I need to take to get it done.
NE: What’s your most important good habit or routine?
ED: Every morning I start my day with a big glass of water and three boiled eggs. I find that when I have protein in the morning, I’m able to sustain high levels of energy throughout the day. It’s been really helpful for me so that I don’t have an afternoon slump. I also want to make sure that I get as much work done during the day so that I can be fully present with my young kids during dinner and at night before they go to bed.
NE: Are you working to change any bad habits?
ED: I am consistently inconsistent with my meditation routine. Right now I’m trying to use the meditation app “Calm” (Android/Apple) which I’ve found pretty helpful. Before I was relying on a range of recent YouTube videos and channels, but struggled with being consistent. I always find myself in a better mood on days when I meditate, so I really hope that I stay consistent with my practice!
NE: What one product or service has helped you build a healthy habit?
ED: I’m old school with this one, but a simple calendar journal and pen. For whatever habit I am building, say meditating or writing, I’ll mark the days that I completed it. That allows me to easily see the overall progress and traction that I’m making. It’s also helpful because there is space for me to add any additional notes about how I was feeling and/or relevant thoughts from that day. I like that it isn’t on my phone or computer so there’s no chance of getting distracted by any incoming notification. Nir’s Note: see our handy weekly calendar template.
NE: What’s the most important takeaway you want people to remember after reading this book?
ED: The most important takeaway from Digital Body Language is to prioritize thoughtfulness over speed. Instead of rewarding the first to respond to every message or comment in that video call, take back your power and control to think first. Give everyone a moment to reflect and then share. This avoids groupthink behavior and fosters inclusion. The collective interest (your own included) is far better served when we slow down, become strategic, and prioritize substance over speed.
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