30 Sep Face to face is best
With the numerous internet based communication channels available to business these days it’s now completely possible to make introductions, build relationships and conduct business from the comfort of a chair at your favourite cafe whilst sipping a mint infused decaf soy mochacinno with extra froth (or whichever obnoxious coffee order takes your fancy). Many people start their work day checking emails, browsing through interesting profiles on LinkedIn and checking the Twitter feed. A Skype conference or two after lunch followed by a bit more LinkedIn browsing, a Facebook review, WhatsApp messaging and a little WeChat session to see out the day. It’s all so easy you’ll basically never need to meet another person face to face again right?… Wrong!
Relationships are the core of every business. Who we work with and how we work them is essential to our short term and long term success. Unfortunately, with all the great interaction tools listed above and many more available to us, we can often fall into the trap of building a relationship from a distance and as we all know, long distance relationships generally never work out. While we have no quantifiable data, psychology degree or thesis study, after over ten years business experience we can say with absolute certainty that face to face meetings always yield the best results and make the strongest relationships. Here’s five reasons why:
All the issues come out.
People don’t like to be wrong, admit mistakes or cause a panic. As such, when you are communicating from a distance, people often will not reveal all the issues they are facing. Instead they will try to face the problems alone, hoping to impress you with a great result, on time and never causing you any grief. While this approach is understandable, more often than not it is counterproductive and can result in both time and cost blow outs. By meeting in person, showing your business partners that you are there to help and work together you can easily turn this situation around. After successfully dealing with one or two issues in a friendly and constructive manner, soon you will find that the other party is comfortable to reveal all and any other issues they are facing. Then, by working together, you may overcome issues earlier before they become major headaches.
Solve issues faster.
Further to point 1, when dealing with issues face to face it is much faster to solve them. Email and other text based communication is inherently slow when compared to simply speaking to one another. Writing takes time to structure your thoughts clearly, and even so, they may be misinterpreted when received at the other end. Then, you need to wait for a response from someone who is also taking time to consider their response and they cycle goes on and on. In one short verbal conversation however you can communicate your thoughts quickly, knowing that it is fast and easy to re-word your explanation if not clear the first time, responses are instantaneous and ultimately issues are resolved much faster.
After many years communicating with customers in China, some who speak little English (although they certainly know more English than we know Chinese!) it is amazing to see what can be achieved through non-verbal communication. By using props, hand gestures, physicals prototypes and samples, facial expressions, drawings etc. it is more than possible to communicate and solve very complex issues. Additionally, it is a lot easier to understand the context of what is being said, i.e. whether someone is upset, happy, joking, serious, etc. This leaves less room for misinterpretation and unconstructive communication.
Food & drinks
When meeting in person you will often share food and/or drink together in one way or another. It may be as simple as a coffee during a meeting or you may go out for a five course dinner plus drinks until the wee hours of the morning. Either way, it is highly likely that you will share food and drink with your business partners when you meet face to face. People love to dine communally, we will usually eat and drink with those we hold closest, i.e. our family, friends and close work mates. By extension, when you dine with business partners you are also engaging in a friendly and trusting environment that promotes more personal conversation, building friendship and trust. As a bonus, you can enjoy some excellent dining experiences during work hours!
It is harder to get upset
In general people want to be liked. Most people will go out of their way to make sure the person they are meeting with feels comfortable and relaxed. When both parties behave this way the communication flows naturally and it is easier to get to know each other on a more personal level and build trust. By comparison email communications can easily be taken out of context and, without the same code of courtesy provided by face to face communications, it’s easier for people to get upset or offended and write things they would not normally say in person. With the added veil of anonymity the internet can offer, sometimes we see the very worst of people when they post comments on social media, blogs or chat forums. Very rarely does this type of ugly behaviour occur when face to face.
Having said all that, it is important to note that modern internet based communication tools certainly have their place. In some instances, i.e. when dealing with international clients, a face to face meeting may be difficult or impossible. In this situation Skype, WeChat and other video conference software make for a great substitute. Email and text based communication is a great way to keep a records for future reference and LinkedIn is excellent for networking. These tools should definitely be used to enhance your communication capabilities but you must be conscious that they are not a substitute for the best business tool of all, the face to face meeting.