With the variety of electronic communication tools available to business today, do you ever sense that face-to-face communication has been relegated to the method of last resort? And if so, have overall communication processes suffered as a result? Is clarity being sacrificed for the sake of speed and convenience?
I believe Yes is the proper answer to each of the above questions.
Businesses communicate today by telephone, teleconference, videoconference, instant messaging, snail mail, and of course the ubiquitous email. The speed of communications is lightning fast, the reach far and wide. Information flows in massive quantities, across borders, without regard to time of day or night, all with the touch of a Send button.
While it’s impractical in today’s world to think that face-to-face communications should be the method of choice for all occasions, there is certainly a price to pay when it is the last choice. Consider these distinct advantages of face-to-face communications:
1. Less chance of misinterpretation. Personal discussion is still the foundation of communication. Speakers and listeners are acutely aware of the non-verbal components that comprise 70-80% of communication. Can the writer of an email or text message detect confusion? Perhaps. Can the sender assume that the message has been interpreted correctly? Again, perhaps. But the chances of misinterpretation should be far less likely if the message is delivered face-to-face.
2. Greater responsiveness. Important message cues-words, visuals, tone of voice, facial expression, body language, and presence-are available all at once only in face-to-face communications. These are all important elements that skilled communicators use to full effect. Listeners respond to those cues, sometimes silently, sometimes not, and the overall effectiveness of the message is influenced as a direct result.
3. More immediacy. Listeners react to speakers; speakers likewise read and react to listeners. The communication process is thus expanded and strengthened. The give-and-take happens in real time, often with real results. It’s just not the same in cyberspace.
4. Overall greater effectiveness. Electronic methods are not nearly as effective for resolving conflict, imparting emotion, or setting and then emphasizing priority as is face-to-face communication. Could the football coach email his pregame motivational speech before the big game? Could the President of the United States make the case for his most critical programs via text message? Could a peace settlement be negotiated between warring parties via conference call? You get the point. Face-to-face has always been, and remains, far better.
Don’t lose sight of the need for and the effectiveness of face-to-face communications when conditions warrant. It is still the best way to get the point across.