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Mind Your (Digital Body) Language

Reading digital body language is an essential skill in today's online work environment.
Will Allred
January 18, 2022

This post was written by Will Allred, Co-founder and COO of Lavender.

Strain your memory for me real quick. Remember back when we used to meet in person?

I know… It’s been a while, but think back to what it was like to be in an office, in a meeting. 

Your boss is pushing a new process that has you worried. You snag them afterwards to let them know your concerns. You’re a little nervous, but your boss opens their stance. 

They sit down, lean in. You know your boss is hearing your concerns. 

How? Their body language.

We all know nonverbal communication is important as we try to navigate relationships, but now it’s much more difficult to convey.

A Zoom screen shows your face, but we all know that’s only a fraction of the interactions we have at work. You’re missing the other 90% of their body, and probably half of what they’re expressing.

Slack messages, emails, chat bots, social posts, comments and dms… even texts. The ways that we’re engaging with customers has exploded.

Customer support teams are on the front lines of this challenge every day. As a cofounder of a “sales tech” company, you might be surprised to hear that I believe the entire revenue org has lessons to learn from customer success.

At the same time as the line between CS and Marketing is blurring, the line between CS and Sales is doing the same.

Marketing is encountering more 1:1 conversations than they ever had as they move to recognize the value of community. On top of promoting the brand, they’re managing conversations that used to be reserved for CS teams.

Meanwhile, as companies move to product led growth, sales is dealing with users as well as prospective customers.

Customer success is feeling this too. They’re dealing with what they believed to be customer support calls, and all of a sudden they’re running a demo.

These conversations are all new. They’re all challenging.

They require a new skill set; a new kind of digital EQ.

You now have to mind your digital body language. Here are three techniques to help you navigate these new conversations: 

1. Seek understanding

Every conversation has to start somewhere. Your goal from the get go needs to be seeking understanding + clarity on that understanding.

Ask yourself: what are they trying to accomplish?

I’ll get into that in the last point, but what they’re trying to accomplish is the only goal.

As the person on the other end, our role is to seek clarity. An effective technique for this is to repeat back your understanding of what they said.

It may feel redundant in your writing, but it goes a long way in helping folks gain clarity.

2. Be Explicit

The reader misses an important point.

The writer excluded an important point.

Let’s start with the reader missing the point. You’ll be surprised to hear that it’s likely your fault.

Fun fact: Clarity is the #1 reason a sales message doesn’t get a reply. Did you know that over 70% of emails are written at or beyond a 10th grade reading level?

Just by reducing that grade level to a 5th grade reading level, we see a 31% boost in positive response.

Your reader is likely missing the important point because of how you wrote.

Here are some tips to make sure folks don’t miss the point:

  • A single email should have a single purpose. 
  • If you’re in a chat, focus on one idea. (+ If the idea gets lost in the thread, be sure to bring it back up to ensure they saw it.)
  • Write with simple sentence structures. Think of commas as complexity multipliers.
  • Use short, common words. Assume they know nothing - the internal jargon is lost on customers, but the industry jargon can be a lot to swallow as well.
  • If there are multiple things to cover, use a BLOT (bottom line on top). The executive summary makes it easier for a reader to organize and capture the info below.

On the note of assuming your reader knows nothing… Because of our own familiarity with a subject, we tend to skip steps. 

Your reader is missing the point because you didn’t include the point. Or maybe you skipped a couple points along the way that are critical for them to get the point. 

As the writer, you have to be sure that you guide the reader. Don’t skip steps. Always assume they know nothing. 

Even if they’ve spoken with you before. You have to remember that you’re just one priority among many. They likely won’t remember everything from prior conversations.

3. Be Transparent

When you’re in person, transparency has a very different definition than when you’re online. Being transparent in person is really about being open and honest about the process behind the scenes.

When you’re online, however, this takes on a new meaning.

Transparency still requires openness and honesty, but it also requires you to explain what’s happening.

In person, you’d do this naturally. “Sure, let me check with the engineering team about this.” They can even see you pick up your phone and send engineering a message.

Online, it's easy to quickly jump to the task without informing the person on the other side. Let them know what you’re doing, so they don’t feel out of the loop. Otherwise they really don’t know if you’re ignoring them, or if you’ve just gone dark.

Mostly-digital engagement has made many things possible, but it’s also come with new challenges.

The empathy skills that have carried us much of our careers are being challenged. The key is adapting to our new environment. It’s realizing the “body language” skills you know naturally are due for an update.

Better relationships. Less churn.

What’s not to love? Try Catalyst today.
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