If you’re like me, you receive dozens of emails per day. Some of these emails are advertisements and some are spam. However, a good number of emails, texts or social-media messages are from employees and/or clients. These are the important because they ask for assistance on a project, clarification and/or they request permission to take action on something. Many messages are simply copied for information so that managers can continue to track what’s going on around them.
Some emails require a quick response and these are usually flagged as urgent and/or high importance. Yet, as you scroll through the list of emails when you first arrive at work and then again periodically during the day, I’m sure you will begin to feel a sense of exhaustion. Frankly, it’s hard being glued to a computer screen and scrambling to keep up with all the message-related action.
Yet, at the same time, as we all know, "email" is another word for evidence, in that an email becomes a record of the communication and/or direction, right or wrong. And, for some reason, this appears to heighten the value of email as a preferred communication platform.
There’s plenty of advice on how to master the art of "email time-management," but what is lacking is real, face-to-face conversation. That’s where real work gets done and strong, ongoing relationships develop. This is where teamwork begins and grows.
In other words, face-to-face conversations are important because teams require real, personal and direct communication so that the whole person is involved in the interaction. Face-to-face discussions are also extremely important venues for discussing sensitive and challenging issues.
With an overreliance on their emails, text messages and social media, it isn’t hard to believe that a manager could go through an entire day without physically interacting with their team members. Yet, this is also proving to be a significant cause of workplace conflicts, especially between managers and their team members.
That’s because many managers assume their team members know what they are thinking and/or what is expected, which in turn causes messages to be misinterpreted. The result is confusion, conflict and projects not going in the right direction. And, of course, morale and employee productivity will drop.
David Benjamin and David Komlos, authors of a new book on dealing with complex decision-making — Cracking Complexity: The Breakthrough Formula for Solving Just About Anything Fast — suggest that business decisions today are far too complex, and require in-depth discussions and well-thought-out decisions. In their view, it is absolutely essential that face-to-face discussions with people throughout the organization take place. And, these discussions need to be tough and challenging, because they believe it is the only way to tackle the complexity of decision-making in today’s environment.
At the same time, there is also substantial independent research on the value of face-to-face communication that also supports the view of these authors. One project conducted by a group of psychologists studied the effect on creative thinking when participants held their discussions through different physical environments.
For instance, a select group of participants engaged in a 10-minute discussion through three different venues including face-to-face, videoconference and telephone. They were asked to recommend as many improvements to a product that they could determine in the time frame provided.
Once the 10 minutes was up, the research leaders evaluated several elements, including the number of ideas created, the originality of each idea and the variety of ideas produced. The results demonstrated that the face-to-face participants generated 30 per cent more ideas than the virtual participants and were also somewhat more creative and original.
A second study referred to by the authors assessed face-to-face versus virtual teams with respect to creativity, the frequency of personal expression and how the skills and expertise of team members were utilized. This study found that the virtual settings served to reduce personal inhibitions about sharing in some cases, but overall, the face-to-face teams were definitely more creative, had a higher level of communication and were more fully engaged in terms of utilizing each members’s expertise and skills.
These results beg the question as to why face-to-face communication is a better venue for team discussion, collaboration and good decision-making. The answer lies in the apparent synchronization of brain activity and the involvement of facial gestures, expressions and body language that naturally occurs between the participants as they engage in conversation. In other words, non-verbal body language does indeed play an important role in facilitating good communication.
Thus, authors Benjamin and Komlos are firm in their belief that decision-makers must meet in person in order to make the best decisions. In their view, the physical presence of decision-makers encourages deeper listening and more openness among the communicators. Participants are more passionate about their opinions and will be more willing to challenge and/or disagree with others.
Still, digital communication is a powerful tool and will continue to play an important role in business communications and decision-making. However, management must be careful not to use information technology as a way to avoid personal, face-to-face communication.
With this in mind, try to apply the following guidelines to determine when face-to-face meetings would work the best.
1. Providing performance feedback of any kind, be it comments from the appraisal review, critique on work completed by your employee and/or any serious feedback;
2. Discussions where the topic is quite complex — there are multiple elements to decision-making, multiple parties to be consulted and multiple opinions to assess;
3. Delivering challenging messages regarding human-resource issues such as attendance, the need for personal/medical time off, complaints or interpersonal challenges between staff;
4. Any topic that is high priority but will likely become heated because of differing opinions and the potential of multiple solutions;
5. Discussions where you wish to have a more personal approach and where you are hoping to apply persuasion to help reach a decision. This creates a sense of interconnectedness, facilitates conversation, builds trust and makes decision-making easier.
We are living in an ever-connected world where information technology provides us with speed and convenience. However, we still need to ensure that face-to-face, interpersonal relationships don’t go by the wayside. After all, face-to-face discussions are where the real work gets done and strong, ongoing relationships develop. This is where teamwork begins and grows, and this is what will bring success to your organization.
Source: Face-to-Face is Key To Solving Your Most Complex Challenges, Our brains are wired for face-to- face contact, by David Komlos, David Benjamin, HR.com.
Barbara J. Bowes, FCPHR, CMC, CCP, M.Ed., is president of Legacy Bowes Group, the author of eight books, a radio personality, a speaker, an executive coach and a workshop leader. Additionally, she is chairwoman for the Manitoba Women’s Advisory Council. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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