Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Face-to-face communication still best way to get job done

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In many ways technology has made the world smaller, but when it comes to workplace communications, it seems we've never been further apart.

Don't get me wrong; there is plenty good about the speed and volume by which we can communicate via email, voice mail and instant messaging at work. Other than the fact that digital information can be open to interpretation, redirected and therefore, misleading. Not to mention that sending out one message to several recipients tends to delay decision making and makes it easy for the group to pass the buck and avoid consensus or commitment.

While technology does have its place at work, the main problem with it is that it is increasingly pushing face-to-face interaction by the wayside. One global survey revealed that 67 per cent of managers said their organization would be more productive if their superiors communicated in person more often. It seems entirely possible that in today's click-and-send digital world, we're actually yearning for more human contact.

Often, we rush to get things done by email or text message when it would be more effective to simply pick up the phone or talk things over in person. As a result, we are missing out on the many benefits of face-to-face communication.

Quite often, how we say something is as powerful as what we say. So the next time you prepare to send out a digital memo or directive, consider that tone, inflection and body language account for 93 per cent of the messages our brains interpret, while words make up a lowly seven per cent.

Face-to-face interaction leads to better organizational understanding, strengthens trust and builds high-performance teams. But that's not all:

1. Face to face meetings occur in real time, while computer-generated messaging is often delayed because the messages are not read right away or are intercepted by a technical glitch.

2. Face-to-face meetings allow participants to accurately observe both verbal and non-verbal communications of others. Subtle but important nuances such as voice inflections, hand gestures and facial expressions just don't come across in an email message.

3. Face-to-face meetings are an opportunity to build strong social relationships and create social bonding that in turn fosters a sense of belonging. Such gatherings help people to identify with the organization and see how they fit in, which instils pride and loyalty.

4. Face-to-face meetings ensure that detailed information can be disseminated, facts can be checked, issues can be identified and addressed, input can be collected and questions can be asked -- all at once.

5. Face-to-face meetings teach the ins and outs of the organization and its culture. By observing others, individuals learn how things work, how others behave and idiosyncratic rules such as the importance of showing up on time for scheduled meetings.

6. Face-to-face meetings give participants a window to silently evaluate the competencies of the people they work with. For example, spending time with a leader with admirable verbal presentation skills may inspire an employee to improve their own public speaking abilities.

7. Face-to-face meetings can veer from their primary purpose and make way for valuable side discussions that can help to complete tasks, share ideas and inform others about the status of ongoing projects. Getting sidetracked is not always a bad thing.

8. Face-to-face meetings are conducive to a fun working environment because they allow participants the freedom to inject humour and express emotion that is absent from digital communications.

9. Face-to-face meetings keep good managers in touch with their people. It allows them to recognize good work and give pats on the back, hear the latest from the worker grapevine (and nip rumours in the bud, if necessary) as well as gauge employee morale.

10. Face-to-face meetings can alleviate the feelings of isolation and stress that come from sitting alone at a desk all day. Humans are social creatures by nature. By interacting in person, people can obtain and offer social support through sharing ideas, assistance, news and information with one another.

When employees interact in person, they naturally feel more engaged with one another, with their work and with their organization. That's something that simply can't be communicated with instant messaging.

-- With reporting by Barbara Chabai

John McFerran, PhD, F.CHRP, is managing director of Boyden Global Executive Search. He can be contacted at


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 11, 2010 I2

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