I had an experience recently that reinforced my belief that nothing can replace or duplicate face-to-face communication. Not a real time video connection. Not a real time phone conversation. Not any form of technology. Face-to-face communication continues to be the most intimate form of communication, hands down, for two reasons:
First, nonverbal cues are a necessary component of communication. Face-to-face communication allows you to check the other person’s nonverbal cues to see if they support or detract from the message. Eye behavior, facial expressions, gestures, body movement, posture, appearance, and silence offer valuable clues to the meaning behind the message.
Second, face-to-face communication allows for the “dance” of going back and forth during the exchange, in what communication scholars call turn-taking. Each person takes a turn at sending and receiving information, of asking for clarification, and responding.
Recently, I made an email request to someone. The email was perfectly outlined, easy to understand, and all of the main points appeared with bullet points. As emails go, it was an effective email. The email response took me aback when my request was denied. The person recommended that we continue the conversation if I wanted to chat more.
As luck would have it, I saw this woman at an event. This, I thought, was the perfect opportunity to reinforce my request in person. Within just a few minutes, I offered her additional information, answered questions, and expanded on several ideas. As she began to learn more, her nonverbal cues relaxed, which revealed that she was warming up to the idea of granting my request. She even suggested a potential win-win solution.
It’s easy in a busy work environment to quickly send emails because emails are effective communication tools. Yet sometimes when we have experiences like the one I had, we remind ourselves that sometimes in-person communication is simply better. In my case, my request was better met by investing a few minutes in face-to-face communication.
What’s on your communication “to do” list that would be served best with a face-to-face encounter?