Just about everything in life and in business relies on communication. But in an age in which communication technology has rapidly transformed the world and given us a baffling range of means to communicate, it’s easy to forget the importance of speaking face-to-face.
Whether it’s instant messaging, emails, video conferences, telephone calls or social media, there are advantages and disadvantages to each method. However, the importance of in-person interactions should not be underestimated - particularly as we communicate with far more than just our words.
Tone and body language play are vitally important, especially when communicating a sensitive topic. How many times have you misconstrued in an email and interpreted it differently to what the sender intended?
Different situations and interactions call for different approaches to communication. Here are some aspects to consider.
Letters are slow and expensive and therefore have an ever-reducing benefit. However, there’s nothing as effective as a letter when it comes to sharing a message formally or authoritatively and some people still prefer to receive post over any other communication method. In the right context, receiving a letter can be meaningful and have an element of magic to it: The beginning of Harry Potter wouldn’t have been so memorable if he’d received an email inviting him to Hogwarts, would it?
Emails, SMS and instant messaging all provide quick and easy ways of getting your message across to someone. Communicating in this way also provides a record of exactly what has been said, when and by whom, which all parties can refer to.
However, if the situation calls for more than simply getting the facts across, you should consider either picking the phone up or arranging a face-to-face meeting.
A good old phone call might seem old fashioned, with many of us feeling more comfortable just sending an email. However, picking up the phone can help to quickly clear up a misunderstanding and to avoid them in the first place.
A call also adds a personal element to your communication and helps to build relationships. However, it is important to take note of any action points to ensure that they are carried out because there’s no written record of what is said through a phone line. Perhaps follow-up the call with an email to clarify any actions.
A conference call over a video chat service - whether this be Skype for Business, Zoom, Google Hangouts etc - clearly offers more than a phone call. You can see who you are talking to and get a sense of their body language and nonverbal signals.
Video calls do provide a good way of communicating with people where it would be impractical to meet in person. For example, when talking with colleagues or teams internationally.
However, you are still only presented with a limited field and therefore you can’t get a complete feeling for others in the conversation. Joining a meeting through video chat when other parties have gathered in one room can also make you feel a little separated from the others which can be a little strange.
This is ultimately how humans were designed to interact. A face-to-face discussion between people enables body language to come into play and is likely to garner the greatest level of trust and understanding between people, particularly if you haven’t worked with someone before.
Unlike with messaging or a phone call, the other person knows that at that moment in time, you are fully committed to them and their words. When trying to build client relationships or if a sensitive issue needs to be discussed, in-person meetings are the most valuable and productive.
In-person meetings often give rise to additional benefits. For example, the topic of conversation may deviate slightly, but may give rise to other opportunities. A client may reveal that they need help with something else or if meeting with colleagues, creative thoughts will thrive in in-person meetings.
Success often comes down to communicating in the right way at the right time. Consider your audience and the situation when choosing the best way to communicate your thoughts and ideas, and think carefully before sending a quick email when much more may be expected!