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Face-to-Face Communication – Old Fashioned? Not!
It’s unbelievable how dependent we’ve become as a society on electronic communication devices! E-mail, text messaging, PDA’s, cell phones, video conferencing, blackberries, blueberries, rasberries, and more…have taken the place of good old fashioned, face-to-face communication leading to many interpersonal difficulties and miscommunications in today’s workplace.
You may be thinking…Why improve my interpersonal skills when most businesses do 99% of communication by telephone, teleconferencing, videoconferencing, e-mail, and on rare occasions, snail mail. A popular way of thinking today…but, is it really the correct way? “Face-to-face communication remains the most powerful human interaction,” says Kathleen Begley, Ed.D., author of Face-to-Face Communication, Making Human Connections in a Technology-Driven World. “As wonderful as electronic devices are, they can never fully replace the intimacy and immediacy of people conversing in the same room and it has worked for millions of years.”
In business, we talk about “B2B” (business to business) and “B2C” (business to consumer) methods. I try to buck the trend (in a positive way!) to stress the importance of face-to-face communication. You’ll hear me talk a lot about the “P2P” (people-to-people) connections and how important it is to get beyond technology and talk face-to-face with friends, family, colleagues, customers, vendors, and the like. You may think that’s a bit old-fashioned, but in my opinion, there is no substitution for the human, up-close and personal contact. Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for the terrific technology tools we have today and I use it regularly, but it’s not always my first or best choice.
Several decades ago, John Naisbitt, in his mega 1960’s best-seller, Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives, brought a new concept to the forefront called “high tech, high touch.” His idea was that “as human beings became capable of anonymous electronic communication, they would concurrently need more close-up personal interaction.” Seems to me that he was right on target!
We live in a society when flocking to the local coffee shop or diner for coffee chats with business associates or friends is a testimony to our need for human togetherness, especially when most coffee lovers can make a latte or cappuccino right in their homes. Think about the fortunes coffee establishments are making on our need for face-to-face communication! The people-to-people connections…
We hear of the many children (and adults) who spend countless hours alone playing video games. However, The Game Manufacturing Association reported in 2003 that family board game sales (like Monopoly and Scrabble) are booming and growing at 20% per year. Cranium has recently come out with a whole new line of board games for our “little people” (ages 3+). The people-to-people connections start at an early age – if you haven’t heard it, ask me to tell you my “Papa Zitto” story!
Even when disaster strikes and the news media bring these events into our homes and workplaces via TV, radio and the Internet, we seek out opportunities to share grief. I personally waited in line for almost three hours with hundreds of others to visit Ground Zero in New York when it opened to the public in December 2001. Many people also left makeshift shrines nearby to honor the victims of that tragedy. The people-to-people connections…
We lead hectic, multi-tasking lives both at home and in the workplace these days and we find the need for balance even more critical than in days gone by. We understand that technology can be impersonal, but it’s quick! We know we need to make time for more people-to-people connections but, the reality of the hectic pace doesn’t leave us much time for this more intimate form of communication. You may be thinking, isn’t it much faster to make a quick phone call, send a brief e-mail, or hook up via video-conferencing to have a meeting of the minds? Yes and no. It’s a communications paradox…faster is not always better.
So the better question may be, how can we make the best of both worlds – technology and face-to-face, people-to-people connections?
Just as fashions are redesigned and come back with a variation on a style from days-gone- by, I believe it is time for redesigning and revitalizing face-to-face (P2P) communication skills.
We need to get the balance right! People-to-people (P2P) communication skills remain one of the primary success factors in business, even in this age of technology. There are many situations – often those involving conflict, hurt feelings, high priority, or a large sum of money – that demand business people take the time and trouble to get in the same room to share information. Video-conferencing has become a good simulation and cost-effective method when individuals are in remote locations, but there is still no substitute for good, old-fashioned, face-to-face communication.
Don’t take my word for it…Let’s take a look at what some of the experts are saying.
Tom Peters, internationally known business guru, says without reservation that you should constantly attend to your face-to-face communication. Not to do so, will lead to career disaster. “We believe in high tech, high touch,” Peters writes. “No question, technology is the Great Enabler. But, paradoxically, now the human bit is more, not less, important than ever before.”
Sheila Hodge, author of Global Smarts: The Art of Communicating and Deal Making Anywhere in the World, says “The modern office is full of gadgets – computers and the Internet, uplinks and downlinks, videoconferencing, and online databases. Many people think they should let the fancy technology handle the messy task of interfacing with people.”
Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, in her book Reading People, talks about how young, technically oriented employees tend to communicate mostly in computer chat rooms. “If you want to become a better communicator, you must make a conscious effort to engage other people (in person),” she writes. “Even the most entrenched Internet junkie can learn the true meaning of ‘chat’ if the desire is there, but you have to get off the couch and make it happen.”
Gary McClain and Deborah Romaine in their book, The Everything Managing People Book, put it this way…”Consistent, daily face-to-face communication promotes more than just good feelings; it also promotes effective and collaborative teamwork.”
“One of the most critical areas of communication to get right in business is the one-on-one situations – especially offering advice, constructive feedback, and annual performance appraisals,” says Chris Roebuck in Effective Communication.
One of my favorite quotes stated very simply by Margaret Wheatley, Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope for the Future, says “I can believe we can change the world if we start talking to one another again.”
Sounds like we’re on to something here…So, what can you do? Start out by taking an honest look at your communication methods and your attitude about technology vs. (P2P) face-to-face interaction. Are you e-mailing more and meeting less for financial reasons? Are you avoiding human contact mostly because of a lack of interpersonal skills? If the latter is true, you need to take action before it’s too late.
The next time you are tempted to send an e-mail, text message or make a phone call for other than routine purposes, stop! Get back to basics. Go out of your comfort zone and, instead, send the e-mail, text message or make the call to set up a face-to-face, in person meeting with the person behind the technology! Why? Because it works!
Make the people-to-people connections… You and your business will be glad you did!
A Positive Workplace Means Business! TM
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