Face-to-face communication: old-fashioned? No!

It’s amazing how dependent we as a society have become on electronic communication devices! Email, text messaging, PDAs, cell phones, video conferencing, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and more… have taken the place of good old-fashioned face-to-face communication, resulting in many interpersonal difficulties and communication problems today. Workplace.

You may be thinking… Why improve my interpersonal skills when most companies do 99% of their communication by phone, teleconferences, videoconferences, email and, on rare occasions, snail mail? A popular way of thinking today… but is it really the right 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 completely replace the intimacy and immediacy of people talking 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 emphasize the importance of face-to-face communication. You’ll hear me talk a lot about “P2P” (person-to-person) connections and how important it is to go beyond technology and talk face-to-face with friends, family, colleagues, customers, vendors, and the like. You may think it’s a bit old-fashioned, but in my opinion, there’s no substitute for up-close-and-personal, human contact. Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for the great tech tools we have today and I use them regularly, but it’s not always my first or best choice.

Several decades ago, John Naisbitt, in his 1960s mega-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 become capable of anonymous electronic communication, they would at the same time need closer personal interaction.” Seems to me he was right on target!

We live in a society where flocking to the local coffee shop or restaurant to chat over coffee with business associates or friends is a testament to our need for human togetherness, especially when most coffee lovers can make a coffee with milk or cappuccino at home. Think of the fortunes coffee establishments are making with our need for face-to-face communication! People-to-people connections…

We hear from the many children (and adults) who spend countless hours alone playing video games. However, The Game Manufacturing Association reported in 2003 that sales of family board games (such as Monopoly and Scrabble) are booming, growing at a rate of 20% per year. Cranium has recently launched a new line of board games for our “little ones” (over 3 years old). People-to-people connections begin at an early age. If you haven’t heard, 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 television, radio and the Internet, we look for opportunities to share the grievances. I personally waited in line for almost three hours with hundreds of people 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. People-to-people connections…

We lead hectic, multitasking lives both at home and in the workplace these days and find the need for balance even more critical than in the past. We understand that technology can be impersonal, but it’s fast! We know we need to make time for more person-to-person connections, but the reality of the hectic pace doesn’t leave us much time for this more intimate form of communication. You might be thinking, isn’t it much faster to make a quick phone call, send a short email, or connect via video conference to have a meeting of minds? Yes and no. It’s a communications paradox… faster is not always better.

So the better question may be, how can we get the best of both worlds: technology and face-to-face, person-to-person connections?

Just as fashions are redesigned and come back with a variation on a style of yesteryear, I think it’s time to redesign and reinvigorate face-to-face (P2P) communication skills.

We have to get the balance right! People-to-Person (P2P) communication skills remain one of the main success factors in business, even in this technological age. There are many situations, often those involving conflict, hurt feelings, high priority or a large sum of money, that require business owners to take the time and trouble to be in the same room to share information. Video conferencing has become a good simulation and cost-effective method when people 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 renowned business guru, says without reservation that you should pay constant attention to your face-to-face communication. Failing to do so will lead to career disaster. “We believe in high-tech, high-touch,” Peters writes. “There is no doubt, technology is the great facilitator. But, paradoxically, now the human part is more, not less, important than ever.”

Sheila Hodge, author of Global Smarts: The Art of Communicating and Deal Making Anywhere in the World, says: “The modern office is full of devices: computers and the Internet, uplinks and downlinks, video conferencing and online databases. Lots of people They think they should let fancy technology take care of the complicated task of interacting with people.”

Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, in her book Reading People, talks about how young, technically oriented employees tend to communicate primarily in computer chat rooms. “If you want to become a better communicator, you have to make a conscious effort to engage other people (in person),” she writes. “Even the most entrenched internet addict 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, collaborative teamwork.”

“One of the most critical areas of communication to do well in business is one-on-one situations, especially when offering advice, constructive feedback, and annual performance reviews,” says Chris Roebuck at Effective Communication.

One of my favorite quotes put very simply by Margaret Wheatley, Turning to Each Other: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope for the Future, says, “I can believe we can change the world if we start talking to each other again.”

Looks like we’re onto something here… So what can you do? Start by taking an honest look at your communication methods and attitude about technology vs. (P2P) face-to-face interaction. Are you emailing more and meeting less for financial reasons? Are you avoiding human contact primarily due to a lack of interpersonal skills? If the latter is true, you need to take action before it’s too late.

The next time you’re tempted to email, text, or make a phone call for non-routine purposes, stop! Go back to basics. Get out of your comfort zone and instead send the email, text, or make the call to set up a face-to-face meeting with the person behind the technology! Because? Because it works!

Make the person-to-person connections… You and your company will be glad you did!

A positive workplace means business! TM

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