Hacks for Digital Body Language
From workplace video conferences and emails to conversations on dating apps, our professional and personal lives have been increasingly transferred online over the past decade. When COVID-19 rolled around, this reliance on technology intensified, and the internet became the medium for most of our communication. Since a large percentage of our in-person communication happens through non-verbal cues and body language, did this aspect of conversations also transfer to the virtual world?
Many experts believe it is not so and that this lack of additional cues may be why your friends may think your serious text is sarcastic, or why your emails are misinterpreted and require further clarification. Other experts disagree, and state that as we ease into this virtual world, we create new kinds of hidden cues to add personality, context, and emotional weightage to our plain ABCs.
An obvious example is emoticons: while the usage may vary slightly across generations, and many evolve new meanings over time, studies have found that they still carry relatively universal meanings. They can determine the kind of emotion your text produces and the attitude with which it is received. Chronemics or your communication with respect to time can also affect the opinion the receiver of your texts has about you. Think of how quick replies show the person’s eagerness, whereas inconsistency in replying may show disinterest or lack of commitment to the relationship between the communicators.
The tone and style you type in, the way you use punctuations and capital letters, whether or not you use abbreviations and how frequently you use them; all play a part in the mental image the person at the other end makes of you. In more formal settings where writing styles are standardized and emoticons rarely used, your adherence to these unwritten guidelines may show how professional you are.
While all of this concerns textual-based communication, there also comes into question the non-verbal cues in more visual types, such as videos and video conferences. While body language here remains similar to that of an in-person conversation, for the most part, there are a few aspects that don’t translate well online.
Gaze awareness, for one, is the knowledge one has of where the other person is looking and how often. Prolonged eye contact might signal interest and involvement in the conversation, frequently looking away might give off impressions of nervousness; an unfocused gaze might mean you have lost the other person’s attention.
When this same aspect plays out in say, a video call, it is impossible to meet a person’s gaze or know where they’re looking. They might be looking at your little box on their screen, but due to the camera position on their computer, their gaze would appear elsewhere. And if to combat that they were to look into the camera, then they wouldn’t be able to look at you! Some researchers deem this aspect of non-verbal communication so important that they developed video-conferencing software that uses AI to make it look like the eyes are looking towards the camera in real-time.
All these factors affect the feeling of ‘being’ or interacting one gets when communicating with another person, also known as their social presence. This is particularly true when talking about textual communication, though one’s social presence is relatively heightened when you communicate through visual mediums like video calls. Think about how your parents always remind you to never trust strangers on the internet, because you never know who is on the other side. This feeling of distrust, interestingly, is vastly reduced if you have met them face-to-face, even if it was just once for a brief period.
But say you were video-calling a potential client overseas, and would realistically never have the opportunity to meet them in the flesh. How then would you make yourself reliable in their eyes? This is especially relevant in corporate sectors, where trustworthiness and credibility play a huge factor in successful business transactions.
Well, as stated earlier, we tend to create new standards of non-verbal communication to express certain characteristics within ourselves and read them within others.
There are some tricks and tips you can keep in mind during video calls that would leave the person on the other side of the screen with a favorable impression of you.
- You should be well-lit, and of course dressed appropriately, with the room itself relatively noise-free, and all participants in the meeting visible, if there is more than one person in the room.
- To give an impression of transparency, your video should be able to capture your head and upper body, almost like a bust statue. This would ensure all your movements are visible to them; make use of that space by being expressive both through your facial features and hand movements.
- However, it is important to also regulate these movements to ensure it doesn’t come across as nervousness, especially since your entire lower body will be out of the other person’s view.
Additionally, mirroring the opposite person’s movements also helps greatly, such as acting out the same verbal and non-verbal patterns. It can lead to being seen as more capable, trustworthy, and sociable. Another great trick is to call people by their names more often when on video call since they cannot understand you are addressing them using direct eye contact, or when writing an email. It brings about a sense of familiarity between you two and makes them more attentive to what you have to say.
Lastly, having clarity of voice, fluid/smooth movements, and general trust-building gestures— such as leaning forward, nodding, and being facially expressive —also add credence to your image.
Navigating the virtual world can be difficult at the best of times, but it also exposes us to opportunities worldwide and connects us to those across the globe. With a better awareness of ourselves and others, we can harness the internet as a tool to plummet us into success beyond physical barriers and create meaningful connections!