Modern communication technology is wonderful but it has its limitations. If you really want to reach understanding in your exchange with another person, there is nothing better than standing face to face with another human being and engaging in real dialog. Here’s why and how you can be more effective in this basic business and life skill.
When face to face with another person, you have the best opportunity to more completely understand and be understood. You can easily misread a person’s tone or attitude in an email or text message. When you hear a person speak you tell right away if he or she is upset, fragile, annoyed or angry. Most people can’t hide their emotions when they talk. At some point their true feelings will emerge and give you a much better understanding of what they are saying.
You have no sense of a person’s body language on a cell phone. You may not hear it in their voice but when you see them in person you can tell if they are distracted when they shift their eyes, look at their watch, yawn or fidget with their keys or any other object. These are clues as to what is going on inside the person’s head.
When speaking face to face you should listen and read all these signals. The non-verbal signals give you a better understanding for what is NOT being said. Once you sense that they are holding back from what you observe, if your relationship is secure you can probe a little deeper and ask: “Why don’t you tell me what you really feel?”
Whether you are speaking or listening, you should always maintain good eye contact. If you are the listener and your body tells the person you have no interest in what is being said, the communication will be cut short and the relationship damaged. Zero in on the person with your eyes. Take advantage of the fact that you are together and maximize on the time. Don’t answer your phone, send text messages or engage in anything other than the conversation.
In a face-to-face meeting you have time to ask for clarification. Most people don’t have enough patience to go into deep explanations in a text message or an email. If you try to go into great depth on the phone it’s easy for your listener to lose interest and be distracted by their surroundings. When someone looks you in the eye and pours out their heart to you it’s pretty insensitive to do anything less than give them your full attention.
The old TV commercials for a certain phone company used to encourage people to “reach out and touch someone.” It was a great slogan but I’ve never been able to do that through the phone. Touch is an important component in communication. If someone is struggling, nervous, frustrated, grieving, or depressed, a simple touch or an embrace can add a dimension to the conversation unachievable through any long distance communication tool. Just think of a firm handshake at a the beginning of a business encounter or the closing of a deal. It either sets the tone or sums the meeting in a matter of seconds.
If you need to convince or persuade someone to take action, close a deal or make a commitment, it’s much easier for that person to say no on the phone or via email than it is to say no to your face. Use face-to-face opportunities when you need to communicate your passion or convictions. In those encounters you become as much of the message as your words or presentation. Words are powerful but when they are combined with a flesh and blood human being standing a few feet a way people will listen more intently and are less likely to check out quickly.
There is a place for electronic communications. Just don’t settle for a text message when a face-to-face encounter is possible and would be far more effective.