“Person to person, face to face, person to person, one to one, just you and me. . . person to person, that’s just how it gets done.” These lyrics from an old 70’s funk band, Average White Band, remind me of the value of face-to-face communication. Why face-to-face versus all of the wonders that technology today has provided? The introduction of e-mail, instant messaging, social networking and other means of exchanging written messages has created additional alternatives to face-to-face communications. While modern technology has its place, nothing can match the power of face-to-face meetings with clients, colleagues and opposing counsel.
When you have a face-to-face meeting, you have the opportunity to observe. We tend to forget that body language plays a major part in our communication. It is not only just how you say something, but also your facial expressions and body posture. This is lost in a phone conversation, and can never be a part of an email. There is also the engagement. Who knows what people are doing while on conference calls. (You might not want to know.) However, face-to-face contact leads to engagement. It ensures that people are “in the conversation.” When you are all in the same room, it forces people to participate, to be engaged. You can’t turn your back to the meeting. Yet, this is exactly what many people do on conference calls. Although written, telephone and face-to-face communication all rely on words, only the latter provides the ability to both observe body language and hear tone of voice. These additional communication cues or signals can provide insights that are critical in gaining an understanding of others’ perspectives.
One simple face-to-face could eliminate many back and forth emails, especially when you are pandering to your client with a “bcc.” When you are in a meeting, there’s more energy and, of course, more opportunities to participate and contribute. Oftentimes there’s also a synergy that ignites discussion and innovative thinking. You can brainstorm more easily. Understand reactions to information being presented.
There is a personal touch: Plain and simple, it’s just nice. We’re better able to socialize and interact with one another. We quickly build a bond that can set the foundation for trust. Face-to-face communication provides opportunities to observe others reactions, adjust behavior, and clarify intent. As a result, the discussions can increase the likelihood of positive outcomes in preventing and resolving conflicts. Without verbal and non-verbal cues, using e-mails or other written communications there is an increased probability of miscommunication.
Conference calls can lead to misunderstandings either due to lack of communication or simply because the medium is not conducive to individuals asking for better meaning. It’s much harder to “raise your hand” on a call than it is in person. Communication in person allows you to interact with the listener in a back-and-forth discussion. It also allows you to utilize nonverbal gestures, facial expressions and personal charisma to enhance the message.
Face-to-face discussions also allow those involved to establish parameters and determine an appropriate process for sharing confidential information. In situations of this nature, the use of e-mail normally is not an acceptable alternative. Confidentiality can be lost once an e-mail is sent, as it can be forwarded again and again. Face-to-face discussions can create an opportunity for those involved to examine their understanding of the information provided and to brainstorm pluses and minuses associated with alternative courses of action.
Whether it’s gaining the trust of a new client, or finding a solution to resolve a conflict, face-to face communication: “that’s just how it gets done.”