Erica Dhawan is a digital collaboration and communication maven. This means she helps people build connections and trust even if their interaction is via email, texts, and virtual meetings.

Her latest book is called Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Communication No Matter the Distance.

She has an MPA from Harvard Kennedy School, the public policy school of Harvard University, MBA from MIT Sloan, and BS from Wharton.

Reading her book, watching her videos, and conducting this interview made me question some of my digital practices–honestly, making me a little paranoid and more careful of how I use digital communication tools.

She’s going to make you think about the details of digital communication like you never have. There’s always room for improvement.

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Transcript of Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People podcast with Erica Dhawan.

Guy Kawasaki: I’m Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. This episode’s remarkable guest is Erica Dhawan. Erica is a digital collaboration and communication maven. This means she helps people build connections and trust, even if their interaction is via emails, text messages, and virtual meetings. Her latest book is called Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection, No Matter the Distance. She has an MBA from Harvard Kennedy School, the Public Policy School of Harvard University. An MBA from MIT, Sloan, and a BS from Wharton.

Reading her book, watching her videos, and conducting this interview, made me question some of my own digital practices. Honestly, making me a little paranoid and more careful when using digital communication tools. She is going to make you think about the details of digital communication like you never have before. There’s always room for improvement.

I’m Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People, and now, here’s the remarkable Erica Dhawan.

Guy Kawasaki: I read your book.

Erica Dhawan: Yep.

Guy Kawasaki:

Now, Erica, I am paranoid. Every text message, every email I’m thinking, “Oh, am I supposed to put, ‘Dear, Erica,’ or ‘Dear Erica- ‘

Erica Dhawan:

No, it’s meant to help you! To help you not be paranoid!

Guy Kawasaki:

Do I say “sincerely,” or “thank you,” or “thank you very much.” I’m so worried!

Erica Dhawan:

I did not want to cause you more stress. I wanted to do the opposite!

Guy Kawasaki:

What exactly has email, text, and virtual meetings done to interpersonal communication?

Erica Dhawan:

Research shows that roughly sixty to eighty percent of our face-to-face communication is our non-verbal body language– pacing, pauses, gestures, tone. In a world of emails, texting, instant messaging, that traditional body language hasn’t necessarily disappeared, it has transformed. We now infuse digital body language signals whether we know it or not.

The problem is most of us are sending cues and signals blindly, accidentally, or just plain wrong, and what that’s causing is a crisis of misunderstanding at work and at home.

Guy Kawasaki:

Do you think that in the old world, at least some people thought, “When I crossed my legs and cross my arms and roll my eyes, I’m giving a signal,” but do you think that they have any appreciation that the way they’re sending an email, the time, the length, the sign-off, whatever, does anybody have a concept that’s what they’re doing now?

Erica Dhawan:

I think we often have a concept when we’re on the receiving end. If you’ve ever been someone who’s worked for a boss who constantly sent you texts saying, “Call me now,” in all caps, or a potentially passive-aggressive email saying, “Why didn’t you finish this?” from Jane, you would start to wonder, what might they be saying beyond what they are saying. When we get messages that are ambiguous, that are brief, that lack context, we’re left to wonder what they truly mean.

The mission with writing my new book, Digital Body Language, is to, one, help us understand the signals we’re sending, even if we don’t intend to, and more importantly, try to move to more thoughtfulness and emotional nuance and digital communication.

Guy Kawasaki:

There are so many places that you can inadvertently send body language, which form of email, what time, how do I address the person? How do I sign off? There’s so many variables that, in my mind, I thought, “This is impossible. How can anybody ever keep this in mind?”

But then I thought, “I’m Japanese,” and Japanese Hiragana has forty-seven characters, Katakana has forty-seven characters, and Kanji has about 50,000 characters. Are you asking us to learn nothing worse than Japanese? If you memorize 50,000 Kanji characters, you can probably memorize 50,000 concepts of digital body language.

Erica Dhawan:

Absolutely. In many ways, digital body language is like learning a new language. I grew up as an Indian immigrant, and at home, my parents spoke Hindi, which meant at school I had to really struggle and adapt. I had accented English, and so much of my childhood was adapting to American body language as a language.

What I realized was that today, we’re all immigrants to digital body language. There isn’t just one language. We actually all have different languages, just like we have different regional dialects or cultural accents.

We may communicate differently across genders or even age groups. What I think the opportunity is for all of us is to avoid getting caught up or ruminating, and instead remember that there are different languages in digital body language.

For some, a period at the end of a text can signal passive aggressiveness, especially for digital natives. For others, it’s just good grammar. For others, an all caps email can feel like shouting. It can feel like excitement, or it can feel like urgency, and if you’re my seventy-five-year-old father, it’s because he doesn’t know how to uncaps an email and his messages.

At the end of the day, we have to remember to not get emotionally hijacked, and that’s a big mission of this book. We have to assume best intent and go back and check if our interpretations are correct, ask ourselves, “Am I using the right medium? Is this person a phone call person versus an endless reply, all chain-type of person?”

Secondly, “Am I being clear in my language?” I like to say reading messages carefully is the new listening and writing clearly is the new empathy. Third, “Am I being thoughtful about tone?” Especially in digital communication, tone can get lost.

We can actually bring it back, whether it’s through an all caps or an exclamation point or an Emoji, or just through deciding that we’re going to write a one-liner, which can signal, “I’m working quickly, or it can also signal that we’re close friends, and I know that you’ll trust me when I’m writing a shortcut message.”

Guy Kawasaki:

My favorite part was the concept of digital immigrant. You literally mean, if I may interpret, that if you are an American and you are transferred to the Japanese office, and all of a sudden you just throw business cards around, you don’t present it, you’re an immigrant, right? You’re a tremendous faux pas.

Erica Dhawan:

That’s right. If we are adapting to a different culture, we have to learn the nuances of that culture. I’ll give you an example that will bring this to life.

Arvin, who works in Mumbai at a tech company, got an email request from one of his peers, Sam, in San Francisco, a global tech company. Now, Sam wasn’t getting a response from Arvin and it was because he didn’t realize that in the India office, it was much more hierarchical. He needed to email Raj, Arvin’s boss, and CC Arvin to be able to get that job done.

This is just an example of what we all knew was sort of the nuances in traditional body language. We have to be adapted and we have to learn these cultural cues, even in digital body language.

Guy Kawasaki:

Now, in that example, in America, if I were to email your boss and CC you to get you to do something, an American would say, “Why did he or she have to go over my head and involve my boss?” This is a power play, right? It’s just the opposite conclusion.

Erica Dhawan:

Just the opposite conclusion. Whereas in India, it was actually a sign of respect for Arvin’s boss and gave the signal to Arvin to complete the work.

Guy Kawasaki:

I have to ask you, how the hell do we thread this needle? Like I’ve said, ever since reading your book, I am so paranoid about sending anybody any digital communication.

Erica Dhawan:

One of the reasons I wrote this book is because I saw this crisis of misunderstanding. I recently ran a study of thousands of office workers and found that, on average, employees are wasting up to four hours per week on poor, unclear or confusing digital communication. If you didn’t think this mattered before, as we all know, the last year has taught us, that it matters more than ever, and it will matter actually even more as we move back to hybrid work where we’re running teams, where half of the people are in the office and half of the people are coming in on video screens or on conference calls.

When it comes to threading the needle here, what my goal was to introduce a set of four laws that are reminders that will allow all of us to create that sense of connection despite our differences, and to actually be thoughtful of our differences. Can I go through the four laws? Would it be helpful here?

Guy Kawasaki:

Of course!

Erica Dhawan:

The first law is that we have to value others visibly. Pre-pandemic, a lot of the ways that we valued others was through handshakes, head nods, meeting in the office.

Today, valuing others visibly is valuing their time, their inboxes and their schedules, and knowing how do we engage them to ask ourselves, “What might be their digital body language style, and how might it be different than mine? Are they an introvert? Will they be more apt to share in a one-on-one phone call or in the chat in a video call versus just me asking, ‘Who wants to share?’” Well, usually, just to hear from extroverts.

The second is we have to communicate carefully. Really, all this means is thinking before we type.

I’ll never forget an example where I sent a message to a leader saying, “Do you want to speak Wednesday or Thursday?” And he responded, “Yes.” I like to share that story because reading messages carefully is the new listening, and writing clearly is the new empathy.

The third law is collaborate competently. What this really means is we have to prioritize thoughtfulness over hastiness.

It’s easy to reward the fastest person to respond, the quickest person who jumps in on a video call, but actually taking the time to be thoughtful of these cultural, gender, generational nuances–The fact that there are nuances in traditional body language that we learn as we go to different countries of the world or even countries within our own businesses.

Collaborating with that competence is about taking the time to learn those new nuances. Last but not least, the fourth law is trust totally, which is simply assume the best intent. Don’t ruminate or rush to judgment. Take the time to really ask for clarity.

Last but not least, use the right channel. I like to say a phone call is worth a thousand emails.

Hopefully, we can thread the needle by using these four laws to make sure we’re not rushing to judgment and we’re not ruminating about what to write. We’re actually giving others the good intent that they will get what we mean as well.

Guy Kawasaki:

I’m going to ask you some really tactical stuff, because this is, like a Japanese teacher is going to quiz you about Kanji.

Erica Dhawan:

I’m used to Indian teachers.

Guy Kawasaki:

Tell me when a platform is optimal. When is email optimal? When is text, when is stack, when is video, when is phone? This is the sweet spot. “This, Guy, is when you should use email and texts and Slack and video and phone.”

Erica Dhawan:

Choosing the right digital channel isn’t just good productivity practice. It can make or break project completion, ownership, trust levels, confidence with team members. There are three factors you have to consider to decide which digital channel to use. The first factor is complexity, the second is urgency, and the third is familiarity. I’ll go through all three.

Complexity, generally, different channels imply a different level of complexity. If it’s a “yes, no” answer, it may be a quick, IAM, a text message, a Slack message.

If it involves a nuance, brainstorming, white boarding, detailed decisions, knowing when to send that thoughtful email or switching and scheduling a video or phone call with a thoughtful agenda before can really showcase that you’re valuing others visibly. You’re not sending deep complex messages in a quick IAM where people don’t have the context to answer.

The second is urgency. Do you need it in five minutes or five days? You don’t want to be that serial texter.

When something isn’t needed urgently, remember that each different channel has an implied urgency. Text may be one to three hours. IAMs maybe respond within that same business day in my time zone.

Email may be twenty-four hours, even up to two to three days. It depends on the industry and the business, and video calls may be a bit more. It takes two to three days up to a week to actually schedule a call, sometimes even two to three weeks depending on the senior level of the person.

The third factor is familiarity. How well do you know this person and what is the trust level and what is the power dynamic? Now, if there’s a high power dynamic, you are often working with an assistant to schedule a meeting on their calendar to build that trust.

If this is a high trust dynamic, maybe you’re sending them that quick Slack message around something where you’re sending them a text to say, “Can I call you now?”

And knowing actually the complexity, the urgency and the familiarity will allow you to know which channel to use, Slack, email, all the nuances. The other thing that’s important is, there are best practices with any channel as well.

Once you know which channel did you choose, we got to clarify, first of all, use the right channel and make sure you’re not emailing for stuff that you’re Slacking. Have some norms. If we use this on Slack, we don’t email about it. You don’t want to have multiple channels or streams of information.

Secondly, in email, I like to say, “Subject lines are everything.” They can make or break, whether someone will read your email, get to the point, clarify what you need from the other person. Remember the body of your email should read like a website. People read that like bullet points, bolded underlined headings. Get to the point.

Last but not least, when it comes to video or phone calls, have an agenda. Unless it’s a quick one-off, where there’s high trust and you’re calling someone out of the blue for five minutes, be thoughtful of people’s time.

It can actually make or break, whether introverts engage in that meeting. If they don’t have time to really digest the intent of the meeting, they may not be ready to share.

Guy Kawasaki:

You touched on it just now, and this is one of my favorite subjects, no pun intended. What makes a great subject line?

Erica Dhawan:

What makes a great subject line? A great subject line gives others clarity on what you need from them.

Guy Kawasaki:

Well, how about you need someone to reschedule a podcast recording?

Erica Dhawan:

Oh, there we go. Good one. If you need to reschedule a podcast recording, having a clear subject line saying, “Need to reschedule podcast.” If there’s high trust, maybe suggesting a new date, “6:15, 4:00 PM ET okay?” That can actually be helpful.

That’s beneficial when there’s high trust, but if you don’t know someone as well, maybe you want to err on the side of formality, have the subject line be, “Need to reschedule podcast,” and then the details in the email, “Here’s the Calendly link to do it.”

If this is a team member, remember that you don’t want to resort to just project update. Maybe you’re having a detail, “What’s the project? What is the work required,” and “When is it needed?”

Actually thinking about the who, what, when can be effective so that individuals can prioritize. At the same time, we don’t have to read into this too much. If there’s high trust levels, people will get what we mean, but remember that subject lines can help individuals prioritize what they opened first.

If you want to be read, and if this is a priority, clarify if it’s a priority. Say, “Need in four hours.” I recommend even acronyms like 4H, which means, “Need this in four hours,” or 2D, which means, “I need this in two days.” Or one of my favorites, NNTR, which means, “No need to respond,” so that individuals aren’t responding, “Okay” or “Thank you” again, clogging your inbox.

Guy Kawasaki:

When I send an email, I would like to use the acronym NRN, which is “No reply necessary,” but I am afraid that when I do that, I’m basically telling somebody, “I don’t really give a shit what you’re going to say so no reply necessary.” Am I paranoid here or is this a generational thing? Because if I told my wife, “I’m going to go surfing. NRN,” that might not go over as …

Erica Dhawan:

It might not go over as well. That’s absolutely right.

A lot of this goes back to the focus on who is your audience here and knowing your audience. Well, the example I shared around NRN, or “No need to respond,” or one of my favorites, which is, on a weekend, writing “ROM,” which means “Respond on Monday,” so that your teammates don’t feel like they have to respond all weekend and rush something to you, is probably more appropriate for teams or colleagues you work with often versus those you’re trying to sell something to or those that are family members, especially a spouse.

At the end of the day, what I think is important is we defaulted, especially in the last year to feel like we used to walk by someone’s office and have that five-minute chat or call them for six minutes and discuss something and be done. Now we feel like everything has to be a thirty-minute video call meeting in order to be polite to them but it actually doesn’t.

A big part of digital body language is bringing some of that clarity and sanity back which is, “Let’s not waste your time. Let’s have ten-minute meetings.” Let’s start every meeting with, “Here’s what we want to achieve: my goal is to end ten minutes early so that you can all get back to work,” and you’ll find that people will avoid multitasking.

Now, again, this is probably best more for team meetings versus a new client opportunity, but what is important is that digital body language is just as much about respecting people’s time and giving them cues that they don’t need to respond to everything as it is giving certain people the space that they need to share at any hour.

Guy Kawasaki:

How about the nuances of key differences between men and women, old and young, rich and poor, higher and lower education, or cultures? What are some key differences? Because men are from Mars and women are from Venus.

Erica Dhawan:

Let’s start with gender because you shared a few.

Now we’ve all, or many of us have heard of the books, whether it’s man are from Mars, women are from Venus, and the differences in communication styles and traditional body language. Now, when it comes to digital communication, I’ll couch this with a few things. A lot of the digital communication research has not sped up to the times of the gender spectrum.

But what I have found is that, similar to uptalking and voice pitch dynamics, or maybe perceptions of bias and traditional body language, there are digital body language, gender biases. In fact, one recent study by a linguist showed that when a younger woman in the workplace used multiple emojis in an email, compared to a man at any rank level in that same workplace, the woman was more likely to be seen as potentially incompetent. The man was more likely to be seen as casual or friendly.

On the flip side, research also shows that women feel pressured to soften their digital communication, almost like using hedging language or filler words in their verbal language in digital communication. Whether it’s multiple exclamations or non-adverb spelling. So saying “So” with multiple O’s, I’m even a culprit.

I share a story about how I kept using the word, “Just”, in emails— “Could you just do this so I could just do this?” And my husband had to help me delete them. There’s actually an app for anyone called “Just Not Sorry,” that will help remind you in your Gmail to not say sorry too much in emails.

This can help us all, whether you’re a woman or man or non-binary, but really, when it comes to gender, what I found is that there’s a masculine tone of digital body language and a feminine tone. Masculine tone is much more direct to the point– fast response times, much more assertive language, obviously must do things.

Feminine styles are more filler words, exclamations, emojis, non-adverb spelling, preferring video calls over just emails. I know women that have a masculine style, men that have a feminine style.

We have to just check our bias. We have to assume that that man with a masculine style isn’t just curt and abrasive, he’s just using a masculine tone, and the feminine style, that person, whether a woman or man, isn’t in competent or immature, but actually just speaking in their own authentic digital voice.

Again, we have to know our audience, but what I really hope is that we can assume good intent as well.

Guy Kawasaki:

Old versus young.

Erica Dhawan:

When it comes to generational differences, what I found is that there are different spectrums as well.

On one end, there are digital natives and on the other end, there are, who I call, digital adapters. They’re more like the digital “True immigrants.” Now, digital natives often grew up in the world seeped in the conventions of digital body language, so, they don’t know a world without signals, like a period at the end of a text obviously means passive aggressiveness.

They also don’t know a world without things like a phone call out of the blue kind of feels intrusive, and don’t send me a voicemail, send me an email instead. They like fast, short response times.

Digital adapters are like “Pick up the phone! Stop sending me emails!” They prefer those longer messages. They may be more formal, and even emails or other channels, whereas a digital native may really prefer those one-liners.

I’ll give you an example. I’m a digital native. When my father sends me a text message, he’s a digital adapter. It starts with, “Dear Erica,” and ends with, “Love, dad,” and I have to scroll through it because it’s as long as a letter. I haven’t quite taught them that a text is not the same as a letter.

Another fun fact is ellipses. For older generations, they tend to use them “…” as casual conversation, a continuation of a discussion. For digital natives, they often interpret them as passive aggressiveness because that’s how they were used in AOL instant messenger.

We have to assume good intent, and we have to remember to check our own biases and be thoughtful that not everyone may use many of these digital body language signals the same way as us.

Guy Kawasaki:

Oh, my God, my head is exploding already. I thought my head was going to explode when Jane Goodall told me about climate change, but this is much closer to …

Erica Dhawan:

In many ways, I think the goal is to remember that there are differences so let’s not get emotionally hijacked by it and assume that good intent instead of resorting to paranoia. Although I think I created more paranoia for you!

Guy Kawasaki:

I would argue that that is a sign of intelligence, that at least I know I should be paranoid.

Erica Dhawan:

Yes, you are conscious that we can be more thoughtful about this and resonate better with others I think it brings it back to one simple thing I share in the book.

In all of our communications, ask yourself, “Who has more or less power and how much do we trust each other?” If you have more power, maybe take the time to be a bit more careful, that sometimes your brevity can cause confusion for someone junior if you have less power. Err on the side of formality first, and then as you get to know someone, show your authentic style.

Trust levels if there’s high trust. Be yourself. Be quick to the point. If there’s low trust, know which channel to use. If we just ask ourselves these two questions, we can avoid getting lost or creating more misunderstanding.

Guy Kawasaki:

I’ve sent you maybe four emails to get to this point. So it would be interesting to look at my emails before I read your book and after I read your book. I’m telling you, the last email I sent you, I said, “Oh man, I really got to craft this thing because, shit, I know she’s going to judge me.”

Erica Dhawan:

Well, the good news is I don’t judge. I find people that are so afraid to get on a video call with me now because they’re worried about their video call background.

Guy Kawasaki:

I can see why!

Erica Dhawan:

And one of the lessons that I hope to share is that we should stop judging people for their video call backgrounds. Obviously, if we’re doing a presentation, make sure it’s formal, make sure we don’t have an unmade bed behind us, but we have to really assume good intent here because we are all in different places and spaces.

I will say your last email was excellent because it included a few things.

Number one, it had a good subject line. It was related to our call today.

Number two, you actually asked me– you showcased that you were listening, that you read the book. You said, “How did I do in this email,” at the end.

Number three, you set expectations for our call today. You sent me the recording link, which I took three minutes to get on so I was delayed, and reminded me to make sure I have my external mic on.

So, those three things, a good subject line, clarity on what was required before the meeting started, and actually some thoughtfulness showcasing how you prepared for the meeting were just indicators to me that you were serious and the real deal.

Guy Kawasaki:

The reason why I changed this recording was because I had to attend a memorial service. I thought, “I’d better throw in a line and that she really knows that I went. I wasn’t just blowing her off, trying to make an excuse.”

Erica Dhawan:

And there I go missing that because I did read that, but I will be a little truthful here, I read the email very quickly as I was on video calls all day, and that’s the other thing that we have to be careful of.

We can often rush through messages and sometimes not read exactly what individuals are saying. I think taking the time to remember that we can’t respond to everything with thirty minutes of thoughtful typing, but being thoughtful of when we need to take the time and when we don’t need to is important.

As well as sometimes just replying back and saying, “Got it. I’ll respond to you on Tuesday.” If it’s not urgent, as well as cases where you can’t respond because it’s not priority or cases where you really need to respond or because it is important.

Guy Kawasaki:

You better frame that email that I sent you.

Erica Dhawan:

Now I’m going to be self-conscious about the response I sent to you.

Guy Kawasaki:

I have an idea. This is completely an aside. I think that you, or I can do it for you, we should contact Grammarly, and we should say, “You need to add a new module to Grammarly.” So Grammarly Pro or whatever, you’ll not just get grammatical errors, you’ll also say, “This ellipse means you’re pissed off, do you understand that?” I think you could do a whole thing about building all this etiquette rules, Kanji rules into Grammarly. Wouldn’t that be a great thing?

Erica Dhawan:

I think it’s a great idea!

Guy Kawasaki:

You can make millions of dollars. You think?

Erica Dhawan:

Let’s do it!

Guy Kawasaki:

I’m dead serious!

Erica Dhawan:

Are we starting a business on this podcast?!

Guy Kawasaki:

No, we’re not starting a business, I just think Grammarly should pay you to …

Erica Dhawan:

I think that’s, whether it’s a Gmail plugin, whether it’s Grammarly, first I hope that individuals would just read the book because then they’ll become more knowledgeable.

But taking a step back and just asking ourselves a few simple questions before we hit send, whether it’s, “Did I give the recipient exactly what they need to do next?” The second question is, “Did I showcase the right tone depending on this individual, the power or the trust levels I have?” Then the third question is, “Am I using the right medium?”

Sometimes we just rushed to type when it really should be a quick phone call or it really should be a thoughtful video meeting. Sometimes we set up those video meetings that really should be a five-minute phone call.

Guy Kawasaki:

Just FYI, the best subject line for me, not when I’m sending, but when I’m receiving, the best subject line is: “I loved your book,” or “I love your podcast.” If that’s the subject line, I read every email.

Erica Dhawan:

There you go! A couple more quick tips that I’ve seen in research, if you put someone’s name, so if I put your name, “I love your podcast,” that tends to do well. Also, the timing of your emails can be helpful. Tuesday mornings is much better than a Friday afternoon.

And when it comes to other channels, like calling people out of the blue, if you want to catch them in between meetings, call them at the twenty mark or the fifty mark of an hour, because they’re usually finishing up another meeting.

Here we go! Digital body language across channels!

Guy Kawasaki:

I’m just going to rock body language soon.

Erica Dhawan:

You already do, I got to say. Pretty good at it already.

Guy Kawasaki:

Hey, I want you to know another power tip. This is promotional and power tip.

So you see me using this thing? This is a Remarkable tablet, which we’re going to send you one, because you’re on the Remarkable People Podcast.

So I craft all my questions in advance and then I sync to this tablet. This tablet has a pencil. So, I am taking notes and marking off what I’ve gone through and adding stuff as it pops into my head.

The reason why I do this, and I make a point to show that I’m writing on it, is because I think when people see people writing with a pencil, they think, “Oh, this person is paying attention and thinks what I’m saying is important enough to take notes.”

Whereas, if you see somebody typing, you think, “That asshole is answering email.” I don’t want you to think I’m answering email when you’re answering my question on this podcast, so that’s why.

Erica Dhawan:

I think that is a huge, true statement. However, I would say that digital natives often relate to that statement differently than digital adapters.

Digital adapters are those that really grew up in analog body language, and so they know– it actually showcases that you’re smart if you’re writing down ideas. We all know the power of that nodding, using those cues in a room.

But for digital natives who grew up, in a way, where talking is really texting or tweeting, that’s similar, there are many of them that say, “Why am I wasting my time writing this on paper when I actually would prefer typing these notes during this meeting, summarizing them, and within five minutes of that meeting, sending out the email with a summary of what just happened in this meeting?”

I would actually say that this is the moment to actually set some explicit cues. One of the things I’ve been doing, because I actually am the opposite.

I actually love the Remarkable Tablet, but I prefer typing some notes instead of writing the notes because then I have to move the handwritten notes to the screen, and so I’ll say, “Just so you know, I’m going on mute, but I’m taking notes as to why I might be typing during this meeting.” You can’t always do that, but sometimes, actually making it explicit is important in video meetings too.

Guy Kawasaki:

I have an even better answer for you. When you take notes on a Remarkable Tablet, you can have the Remarkable Tablet do OCR and email you, digitized handwriting. That may be the best of all worlds.

Erica Dhawan:

I think that actually just bridged and solved the problem for all of us.

Guy Kawasaki:

Another sort of down in the weeds question here because I think many people will be affected by this, which is the nuances of addressing i.e., to BCC or CC, and the greeting, “Dear Erica,” “Erica” comma, “Erica” hyphen, “Erica” colon, whatever, and the complimentary close, “thanks,” “best wishes,” “sincerely,” whatever, so what’s…

Erica Dhawan:

Or regards.

Guy Kawasaki:

Yeah, or “tata for now.” What are the nuances here of these components of an email?

Erica Dhawan:

Let’s start with the power dynamics of the two CC, BCC, reply all, forward.

In many ways, they are synonymous to how people sit across a boardroom table. If someone’s at the head of the table, there’s a main stage, the two line. The CC is around the table. Those that are sitting behind the table, they may be spying are in the BCC, or maybe out of the room, but somehow, they’re listening or observing.

And those that you forward something to, you sent the notes of that meeting to them. I do think it’s important to set some norms around when we use each of these different signals.

My general rule of thumb is, if you’re on the two line, you expect them to respond. They are essential to respond, unless you say “NTR” or “NNTR” like we discussed.

The second CC, these are people that just need to read it. They don’t necessarily need to respond. In more hierarchical organizations, like in that India office, they may be those that may be more junior or those that aren’t the senior level of authority, but should be involved in the discussion.

The BCC, I generally recommend not using it unless you want to avoid “reply all.” It can often feel like spying. There was actually a study that showed that organizations that tend to use BCC more have a higher level of distrust and fear, especially in our world of email communication, I recommend not using it unless you want to avoid that reply all.

Then forward, when you forward things, I recommend clarifying why did you forward it? If you just do a forward with an FYI, sometimes people don’t know, does that mean they need to do something? Does that mean they just need to read it? Is it a work request? And if it’s not clear, you’re creating more miscommunication. Just have a standard around clarifying that.

Last but not least, on “reply all,” don’t “reply all” unless everyone needs the “reply all.” If they do, or if you loop other people in or you loop people out, clarify that. Let people know, “I BCCed this person to not clog their inbox,” or “I’ve added this person because of this,” so people don’t think that others are spying, they actually are thoughtful of why others are engaged in that conversation.

Greetings and signatures are like the new first and last impression in our emails. They set the intention, and then they help us close.

Generally, when it comes to greetings and signatures, it goes back to what I mentioned before. We have to answer to other questions that guide our digital body language, who has more or less power, and second, how much do we trust each other? Now, if we have less power, we may want to err on the side of formal greetings and signatures, especially if we’re new to our relationship.

Maybe we’ll use “dear”, or “hi,” or “hello,” if it’s very formal, and again, being thoughtful about cross-cultural nuances, when India, “sir,” “Madame” is actually more formal in digital communication than it’s ever used in the United States. With closings, you may again to err on the side of formality, best regards or mirror the other person, just like we mirror body language of those more senior or in higher power levels.

Now, when it comes to, as someone who has more power, you have the opportunity to actually be more informal with someone. If you want to say “hi,” or you want to showcase more intimacy, you may actually opt to not have a greeting or signature. Just have a one-liner to get to the point to showcase that you’re more informal.

When it comes to trust levels, I like to say, if there’s high trust, don’t ruminate or worry about this too much. With my team, I’ll start with their quick name, and then I’ll end with E. I won’t even write out my name because they know that there’s high trust, but if there’s low trust, maybe err on the side of best or warmly research shows that best is one of the most common ones, but this can also really depend on the background.

I’ll give you an example. I know a leader in the UK who often ended his emails to his team in Brazil, he has a global team, with “regards” or “best regard,” and he would use phrases like “unfortunately,” or “I regret to inform you” in his emails, which was often his spoken language. His Brazilian colleagues thought he was so off-putting because he never used an emoji or an exclamation mark, which was much more common in their culture.

Again, not worrying too much, but being thoughtful of some of these nuances across cultures, gender generation, power dynamic can be helpful when it comes to greetings and signatures.

Guy Kawasaki:

Grammarly really needs you, or Gmail plugin.

Erica Dhawan:

Yeah, we need a Gmail plugin, I think.

Guy Kawasaki:

And Gmail could theoretically know that I’m writing to a person in Brazil.

Erica Dhawan:

And how often you communicate with them, signaling higher trust versus someone you’ve never met before, or you’ve never emailed before.

I think that digital body language should extend to video meetings, where at the end of video meetings, we almost get like a net promoter score of who talked the most, who talked the least, and some stats around it so that we can be thoughtful, almost like a data led nudge in our next team meetings, to think about, are we including introverts and extroverts? Are we being thoughtful of different voices and checking our own bias, or what I’ll call digital mansplaining.

Guy Kawasaki:

Your answers to the next couple of questions could really change my life. You’ve already made me paranoid, but this could just take it to the next level. I am just inundated with email, so I have to tell you a story.

A few years ago, one of my colleagues died, and I said, “Why am I spending hours answering email? My friend just died. His family is never going to see him. You think his family is saying, ‘Oh, if only my father had answered more email, he would be better placed.’” I said, “In his honor, I’m just going to throw away everything in my inbox.” I just threw everything away.

To my utter amazement, nobody wrote to me and said, “I wrote you thirty days ago. You never answered.” I concluded from this that people’s expectations are so low, they don’t expect to get an answer.

Now, I have done this again, as people die, not that particularly morbid, I don’t want you to think that. I also notice that sometimes I do answer emails, which are at the edge of spam, just a form email, and I answer them, and they answer me back saying, “Guy, I never expected an answer from you. I understand you can’t do this, but I so appreciate your answering me!”

I’m telling you all these stories, because now I have a practice that, just about every thirty days, when my email inbox gets to be about 500, I throw away everything that’s older than thirty days. Now, are you telling me that I have just created a heinous problem for myself and hundreds of people are out there thinking I’m an asshole and my digital body language is all messed up?

Erica Dhawan:

I think it’s brilliant! What you did is what I recommend in my book, which is set your own boundaries. We live in a world of constant email overwhelm and Zoom fatigue. I think that one of the key skills I hope to spark a conversation around is, this is not the moment to connect more. This is the moment to connect intelligently. That really has to start with ourselves.

We have to bring clarity and sanity back. Whether that’s setting rules for yourself around what you will respond to, what you won’t, whether that’s individuals that I met in my journey writing this book that have email templates, like an auto reply all because they know they’re not going to respond to everything, where they actually include, “If you want to interview me, email this person,” or “If you want to work with this person, look at this Calendly link.”

Some people actually appreciate that because there’s an auto responder, and there are others that just agree that they’re not going to respond. I think the point is, is that’s okay. We have the opportunity to set our own boundaries now. What we can realize is that sometimes those quick responses back make people feel appreciated, but we have the opportunity to set our own boundaries around who we’re going to respond quickly to and who we may never respond to, as well as those we may catch up with within those thirty days.

Guy Kawasaki:

But you don’t find what you just said in conflict with what you said earlier about the nuances and all this, and now you’re saying it’s okay not to respond?

Erica Dhawan:

It is okay not to respond. In other cases, it is not okay not to respond. It depends on the person. It’s about knowing your audience. That again, is an individual decision.

I feel like, in many ways, we’ve taken our email inbox as our to-do list, but it’s not our to-do list. It’s somebody else’s to do list. The opportunity we have is actually to take our power back and say to ourselves, maybe take those ten seconds and say, “Is this priority for me and is it urgent for me?” If it’s not both, we may not respond quickly. If it is priority, maybe we’ll start and come back to it in that month, and if it’s not either, then it’s lost after thirty days. I think that’s totally okay.

Guy Kawasaki:

Oh, thank you, God. I thought you were going to tell me, “No, Guy, you got to answer every email.”

Erica Dhawan:

Oh, no way! No way. I sure can’t.

Guy Kawasaki:

Thank God.

Erica Dhawan:

It’s not humanly possible. However, I do want to share there is one thing that’s important. When it comes to saying, “thank you,” speed matters just as much as substance.

If you want to make a good impression with someone, maybe this is again, one of those priority meetings, that you just had a meeting, writing a quick thank you note within, like, thirty minutes or an hour, again, it takes a minute by email. It’s like the new virtual handshake. It makes a significant difference doing it within an hour versus the next day or days later because people feel that virtual handshake, versus in the room, they could feel that connection and it was like a great closing.

Guy Kawasaki:

You already touched on this very briefly, but is having a virtual assistant cheating? I have had virtual assistants, and I would have folders that were– there was a folder called “No,” and any email I dragged into that folder, my VA would reject, and she would craft this most heart-rendering, “Thank you very much for reaching out to me. What you’re doing sounds so exciting. Unfortunately, I’m just tied up with my work at Canva and my podcast. So, much as I would love to help you, it’s just not possible.” Then I would get responses to her response saying, “Guy, you’re such a warm and emotional person for taking this time out to respond to me personally,” and I’m saying, “Oh, shit, Guy, you just cheated.” I never even saw that email. So, is this cheating or is this better?

Erica Dhawan:

I think it’s better. I think that it really depends on the person. I talk a lot about just choosing your own authentic style in digital body language. If you’re getting hundreds of emails, it’s not humanly possible to respond to all of them, and actually your thoughtfulness in having your VA send something is actually better than not responding at all. So, you’ve done it right. I think you’re a role model. I’m learning from you here. Maybe some of the things I should be doing.

At the end of the day, again, it goes back to setting boundaries, but what you did is you made people feel valued visibly by responding to them, whether it was you or not you, it’s okay because you showcase that you care, whether that was through your assistant or through you.

Guy Kawasaki:

Oh, thank you, God. Do you use any text expansion apps? Do you know what that is?

Erica Dhawan:

I think so, but tell me more.

Guy Kawasaki:

Let’s say that I get a lot of requests for people to be on this show.

Erica Dhawan:

Yeah.

Guy Kawasaki:

I have– I type in F, because that’s my precursor to the next part. It has nothing to do with profanity. It’s just typing F is easier than typing Z. So, it’s F, guest, no. When I type F guests, no. It expands to, “Thank you very much for reaching out to me. I’ve been inundated with requests. I only have fifty-two episodes. Much as I would love to have you on my show, I just can’t have you.”

I send that out a lot of times every day. I would anticipate that you’re saying, “Well, Guy, at least you’re taking the time to respond, and even though it’s text expansion and it takes you five seconds, you’re not crafting this email, it’s better.”

Erica Dhawan:

It is better. Some people do it as an autoresponder. Some people have an assistant do it, and this is also a great automated way to do it with text expansion. We all have the opportunity to make the decision on what works best for us, but what you’re showcasing is actually good digital body language, because you are showing others that you hear them and you value them, even if you can’t have them in a meeting with you or on a show.

If someone used to message you a lot back and forth, very informally, friendly, maybe even using humor, and then they all of a sudden started asking you to work with their assistant and started emails with “Dear Erica,” and “best” at the end, you would start to wonder what’s going on.

If there’s a change in formality, that’s when you may want to read the signals, but if someone that has a general practice, that it doesn’t have a lot of change, you actually feel their genuine self, their own authentic style.

Guy Kawasaki:

I feel liberated. Can we switch a little bit to your tips for rocking Zoom or Teams or Meetings, whatever, whichever platform? How do you rock Zoom?

Erica Dhawan:

I have three tips for rocking Zoom or any video call platform. The first tip is, if you were hosting the meeting, think less like an office host and more like a TV show host.

TV show hosts have always had to connect on a screen from afar. They number one, have thoughtful agendas or segments before. Number two, they call on people to engage in different segments and they summarize what has just been discussed. Number three, they always make sure to be thoughtful of cutting people off if they’re over-talking in a meeting. So, think like a TV show host, not an office host.

Number two, when it comes to Zoom, remember to use the power of all the modalities. Use the chat tool to engage introverts just as much as extroverts. Avoid that turn-taking or virtual whiteboards. Introverts have told me, “I finally have a voice in the meeting now. I never did in the office because I was struggling for airtime.” This is a moment that we can be more inclusive than we ever were in the past.

Guy Kawasaki:

Wait, wait, you’re saying by calling on the introvert?

Erica Dhawan:

No, engaging them to be able to use tools like the chat to share their thoughts, to avoid having to turn-take. One of my clients actually does something where she always sends agendas before, and she asked everyone to share their thoughts in the chat before they speak. Research shows we speak better if we’ve already written down an idea versus just blurting out ideas.

What she also does is she calls on people with the most diverse or different perspectives to avoid that bias as well of a lot of agreement or group think.

The third tip is, when it comes to video meetings, have a note taker who is sending a quick summary of what happened, what are action steps within thirty minutes of that meeting. It can feel like that virtual handshake I discussed earlier, but it can transform meetings. We’re in too many meetings where we’re discussing what was discussed in the last meeting, and taking that time to create alignment involves using an email as well.

Those are my three tips for Zoom meetings.

Guy Kawasaki:

All right. Tell me if I’m imagining this, but do you place a one-on-one virtual meeting above or below a phone call in terms of engagement and all the good stuff?

Erica Dhawan:

Here I go: it depends, and I’ll give you a few examples on why. Two years ago, a video call was an exception, not the norm. Maybe in some industries, it was more normal, but it was more of an exception. Now, it is the norm, not the exception compared to phone calls. What I have found is that video calls can create more intimacy in some ways and phone calls can create more intimacy in other ways.

Let’s start with a video call. Now, obviously the video call allows us to read onscreen body language. We can read someone’s hand gestures. We can identify if they’re smiling, if they’re nodding or head bobbing, and it allows us to understand whether they’re engaged.

We can also read whether they’re looking down at their phone or somewhere else or distracted during the meeting and not paying attention, or potentially multitasking that we can’t see in a phone call. Video calls have created a level of body language engagement that can deepen intimacy and trust, and they’re best used for first meetings, initial meetings.

They’re also used for deep discussion around complex issues, negotiations, giving feedback, discussions. But on general Team Meetings, especially when there’s a screen-share like for forty-five minutes of the hour meeting, I often recommend setting some norms. Maybe everyone needs to be on video for the first five minutes to create that quick first impression connection, and then the last ten minutes, but we don’t have to force them to worry how they look on a screen the entire time, especially if they’re like me, taking notes on the screen.

Now, if we go to phone calls, they actually can signal intimacy and that you’re close in relationship in certain cases where it’s appropriate where we don’t need a video call to build that first impression, and we’re close enough where I can call you out of the blue or connect with you. I’ve already built that trust.

In other cases, especially in first meetings, they can signal less intimacy, that someone’s busy or traveling, or doesn’t want to look at you on camera. There I go, it depends, but you can see how actually the phone call versus the video call have different levels of intimacy.

Guy Kawasaki:

I find a video call much more intimate. I almost never take just a phone call anymore. I prefer many more signals in one-on-one virtual call than a one-on-one phone call.

Erica Dhawan:

Yeah, I think that there are more signals, definitely in video calls. At the same time, there’s high video call fatigue, and it’s also not normal for all of us to be on screens all the time. Even right now, we’re on video, and I struggle with looking into the camera, especially as someone who presents and speaks all the time, to looking at you because I want to read your body language.

I think that when it comes to being onscreen all the time, actually making eye contact with them, making them feel like you hear them means looking into the camera from time to time. It also means being thoughtful of how you show up, dressing up on camera in certain cases is important, and also knowing when to check their body language for cues.

Guy Kawasaki:

If somebody would sell a monitor that has the camera in the middle of the screen…you have that?

Erica Dhawan:

It’s called PlexiCam. This is one company that does it. It is right in the middle of the monitor. Imagine I’m looking at you, you’ll see me looking at you in a way where there’s true, direct eye contact on screen. That’s just one company that I know that has it. I actually have a PlexiCam. I’m not using it right now because I had a virtual presentation today, but it’s definitely beneficial.

Guy Kawasaki:

I interviewed a guy named Sam Wineburg, a Stanford professor of history, and his whole thing is about teaching kids how to use the internet in the sense of knowing what to believe and what not to believe.

One of his key tips is that, when you go to a website, stop going vertically. Vertically means you go down and you read the about us and the “contact us” and “our members” and “our founders” and all that. He said, “Go horizontal.” When you go to a website, look up that website on other things in Google. Read the Wikipedia entry about it. Nobody’s about us says “We’re a bunch of criminals.” Everybody’s “about us” says “We are wonderful people.”

Anyway, so he thinks that at the time that you hand a kid a phone, they should have also taken this course in internet literacy, in the sense of a “.org” doesn’t mean this is a good organization. Anybody can buy a “.org,” those kinds of things. Do you think there’s going to be a day when there’s going to be the Erica curriculum that every kid is learning the nuances of digital body language?

Erica Dhawan:

I think that more than ever. Just like we spent years as children, as adults mastering traditional body language with books and courses and traditional feedback.

Guy Kawasaki:

Yeah, what’s the difference?

Erica Dhawan:

Not only the next generation, we all have to master a digital body language. It’s not only children that are adapting to this new world, it’s teachers teaching online. It is doctors and telehealth, it is negotiators and online courtrooms. The applicability really requires all of us to reimagine the importance of these skills.

I do think that, especially for the students or children, learning the cues of what– and almost relearning the importance of the analog body language with digital body language is important because what I am seeing is that, as a parent of two children, I have unintentionally taught my kids that it’s okay to look at the phone during dinner because I’ve done it! I’m the culprit! I got to be better at this.

Or that we have a digital persona online and that they’re individuals, whether it’s our profile picture, whether it’s what we put in Google, whether it’s what’s written about us, and how to make meanings and sense out of that digital body language persona. I agree, similar to internet literacy, I think we have to build a digital body language literacy as well.

Guy Kawasaki:

How old are your kids?

Erica Dhawan:

I have a daughter who’s two and a half and a son who is sixteen months.

Guy Kawasaki:

It’s a little early. I thought you’re teaching them about all caps versus lower and uppercase.

Erica Dhawan:

Not yet, but they already know how to get on the phone and go on YouTube pretty quickly. So they’re going to be there soon, but one of the things I’m finding with the rising generation is, how can we make sure we teach them the importance of analog, traditional body language? How to lean in? Or the eye contact is incredibly important because it’s becoming sort of less of a priority as we have screens around us in every single meeting.

Guy Kawasaki:

The Remarkable People Podcast is sponsored by the Remarkable Tablet company. This is a product that helps you focus because it’s specifically meant for note taking, not for checking email, not for checking websites, not for staying up-to-date on social media. Because of this focus, I ask my guests how they do their best and deepest thinking.

Erica Dhawan:

I do my best and deepest thinking when I have to think for myself, and I don’t have the distractions of being able to Google an answer, I don’t have the distractions of, I can text someone or email someone in my LinkedIn network to get an answer, and I don’t have someone walking by me to give me an answer. Creative work comes from within. It comes from our own human ingenuity.

In many ways, the reason I wrote this book is because when I was by myself, I realized that there is such a pain right now we’re all experiencing. Similar to being that kid that struggled with immigrant traditional body language, today we needed the rule book for digital body language, and that came from meditation, and that came from quiet places on my own.

Guy Kawasaki:

I hope this episode has helped you become a better digital communicator. With fewer in-person meetings and in-person interactions, it’s a lot tougher to communicate and to engage. Erica and her book provide great information about how to do this.

I’m Guy Kawasaki. This is Remarkable People. My thanks to Jeff C. and Peg Fitzpatrick who have helped me become a better digital communicator too.

One more thing, if you’re not vaccinated, please consider taking that step. Do it for the kids.

Mahalo and aloha.