Glenn Stok acquired strategic management skills for organization, planning, and policy development from his employment and his own business.
With this essay, I’ll review the problems encountered when neglecting to have face-to-face communication and the benefits of using it to your advantage. We’ll also analyze some techniques for having a meaningful conversation.
Proper communication is a vital part of our social skills. Clear and precise communication is necessary for success in many human endeavors.
Communication in person is crucial for clarity and full understanding. It provides better interaction with more successful results.
Avoiding direct contact is a detriment to successful communication. Missing nonverbal cues, such as the sense of approval from a facial expression, can result in missed opportunities.
Let's examine this in more detail.
The Basic Need for Visual Feedback
Body language adds to verbal communication when having a face-to-face conversation. There are many clues to how one feels about the discussion.
Sometimes one can even tell if the other person is not truthful by the way they handle eye contact. If one avoids eye contact, that may indicate that they are hiding something or that they are not honest.
However, cultural differences need to be taken into consideration too. In some cultures, it is considered a sign of disrespect for a young person to make eye contact with an elder.
Gestures and Nonverbal Communication
Nonverbal communication is only possible in face-to-face conversations because of the advantage of seeing one's body language and having eye contact.
Hand gestures are an additional common aspect of verbal communication. However, this may be detrimental to a discussion if having a conversation with someone of a different culture.
For example, pointing at something with one finger is considered rude among Asians. It is similar to our middle finger salute. Asians usually point using their entire hand.
How Technology Affects Social Interaction
Before computers were used for communication, people used to get together at community gatherings to discuss public affairs and make plans for social activities.
Today, with email, instant messaging, texting, and other methods of group communication that computer technology provides, people don’t need to leave the house or office any longer for community or company meetings.
The technology makes it so easy to communicate that people use it to share messages on social media sites and send info via global mailing lists instead of getting together in real life.
That is our modern-day society in which we live, and it causes people to lose the ability to function in a face-to-face environment.
How Technology Causes Loss of Social Skills
Today people are losing their social skills because of the ease of quick correspondence by telephone, smartphone, email, instant messaging, and texting.
Face-to-face conversations have become less frequent. People call one another when they need a quick answer to a question or schedule or confirm an appointment. People rarely call one another to have a meaningful conversation. They call to chat, but nothing that's serious.
The Problem With Neglecting Face-to-Face Contact
I learned a crucial lesson after making a particular mistake several times. I’d send text messages or emails that had been mistaken as hostile when indeed I was making a joke about one thing or another.
When I talked with a phycologist about a friend who mistook an email I wrote, he asked me if I included LOL in it. I did not. I thought my humor was apparent. But without face-to-face contact, that part of the communication was not realized as expected.
When people don’t have the visual feedback or the auditory feedback that displays the speaker’s emotions, they have to interpret that from the text. Based on their feelings at the moment, they can easily get that wrong.
So now I tend to leave humor only with live conversations.
Awkward Silence With a Lull in Conversation
Have you ever experienced those awkward moments when there is a lull in the conversation?—when all of a sudden, nobody seems to have anything further to say?
I find it can happen even when the conversation is flowing well. Suddenly nothing new is added, and everyone seems to go into a trance.
When a lull in the conversation happens, I am usually the one to break the silence. I bring up anything new to talk about that comes to my mind, to keep the conversation going. The trick is not to think too much about it. Otherwise, a more extended period of silence occurs.
Whatever you think of to break the silence doesn't even have to be the same subject. Most people don't even notice that the subject has changed, and they just continue along the new thought path. I wonder if I'm the only one who knows what just happened when I do that.
Why Face-to-Face Communication Is the Most Effective
When we write to a friend to express an important issue or ask for something from a business worker, we never know what part might get lost with one’s interpretation or lack of interest.
A friend once gave me an excellent example. When she was having problems at work, she wrote a letter to her boss. She thought it was more professional than requesting her boss’s time for a meeting, and her boss could read it when she had time to absorb the contents.
She thought her letter would be read and understood as she meant. Unfortunately, her boss only read part of it and completely misunderstood the seriousness of the matter.
When you communicate face-to-face, you know your message has been received, and you can tell if it was understood. You’d have the opportunity to see the response, facial expression, and body language signals. That feedback is priceless.
Techniques for a Meaningful Face-to-Face Conversation
The advantages of face-to-face conversation outweigh the disadvantages as long as one uses proper techniques.
- Pay attention to visual feedback.
- Hear what's being said, and respond if you don't understand something.
- As a speaker, pay attention to body language that might indicate disinterest or confusion.
Visual feedback is useful. It's useless to keep talking if you observe that the listener is not interested. They may be fidgeting or looking away. Respond to that appropriately by changing the topic or by giving the listener time to speak. This interaction makes the conversation much more meaningful.
As a listener, show you're interested and have a desire to understand when you missed the point. If the speaker didn't make something clear, bring it up before it gets lost in further discussion. Ask questions, interject, but let the speaker complete a thought too.
The Benefits of Face-to-Face Communication
A face-to-face conversation is an absolute requirement for collaborating on a business venture or for asking one's boss for a raise. You wouldn't even consider asking for a job promotion without doing it in person, would you?
That is especially helpful in a sales interaction, for example, where visual feedback of body language is so valuable. A top-notch salesperson uses body language to know how to proceed with a sales pitch.
Customer service is also best-performed face-to-face since all the visual cues can be picked up and responded to appropriately. A customer may be frustrated about a product or may have a service question. Visual feedback shows quickly if he or she understands the help one is providing.
Personal conversations among friends are enhanced and appreciated when using the same techniques I've described. When one realizes more meaning from discussions with friends, they will want to get together more often for an enjoyable chat.
A face-to-face conversation is also useful for having insightful discussions of mutual interest. Before Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, people had no choice but to get together when they wanted to have a conversation. Social skills were enhanced since people were accustomed to the art of conversation.
Face-to-face conversations provide the ability to get to know one another in a way that cannot be achieved remotely. Communication via letters, text, or email is not as effective because the sentiment and emotion are not conveyed.
People need to see each other’s reactions. Words can be misconstrued via text, because text leaves out visual means of communication that are so important for understanding, such as body language.
When in person, one can see nonverbal communication such as facial expressions, body posture, and gestures. That conveys information that one cannot detect from words alone.
With the Internet and smartphones, many people are hiding behind their devices. Let's not lose that vital part of human communication that only face-to-face can provide.
How else can we enjoy the beauty of a smile or detect the sense of approval by the wink of an eye?
© 2012 Glenn Stok