It’s somewhat fittingly ironic that in the digital age, with all the communication technology we have at our disposal, that so much of our dialogue in business avoids the most effective form of relaying messages: face-to-face conversation. Email, and to a lesser extent it’s hipper, younger cousin, the enterprise chat tool, tend to dominate our professional conversations.
But crucially, in a world where we’re always connected and reachable for comment, email and chat messages lack some of the huge benefits of face-to-face meetings. New research recently published by the Journal of Experimental Psychology by Vanessa Bohns and Mahdi Roghanizad, and reported on by the Harvard Business Review, found that verbal requests made face-to-face are up to 34 times more successful than requests made via email. Their study took 45 volunteers, asking them to make the exact same request of 10 strangers each (so 450 requests in total). Half the group were asked to make the request face-to-face and the other half making the request, with the exact same wording, via email instead.
What’s more, fascinatingly, the research found that many individuals almost always overestimate their capacity to persuade via text, and almost always underestimate their ability to convince someone face-to-face. Still think your sales team should be relying on email so much?
Whilst it’s not really surprising that the verbal requests were more successful, that they were 34 times more effective in achieving their objective is pretty striking.. Face-to-face communication helps us build the personal connection and trust human beings look for in any conversation, and that can’t be matched by any other medium.
We rely on emails and other forms of written communication at work so much at work that collectively we’re probably all agreed to stick to the official narrative that email is just as effective as actual human contact. We don’t really want to sit and think that our organizations devote so much time to a form of communication so is so often ineffectual.
So, when you or your business has something important to say, should you be doing it face-to-face?
1. Making the effort to say something face-to-face will make you stand out.
Our workspaces are becoming less and less physical and more and more digital, and as the influence of Millennials now maturing in the workforce, we have a generation of people used to communicating primarily through screens. But always relying on emails can say “I’m too busy to give you more than the minimum required response”. On the other hand, making the effort to speak to people face-to-face tells the other person “I value you, you are important enough to give up my time, to look you in the eye when I ask something of you”.
2. You will establish a level of trust emailers can only dream of.
Humans are programmed to believe with their eyes and eyes more readily than logical reasoning. At a basic level, text will convey meaning with an indication of tone; the same words spoken in-person can convey tone, context, subtext, personality, passion, urgency, humour, and more. In other words, it’s much easier to read someone’s intent, as well as read between the lines when you can see someone deliver their messages. This is why professional videoconferencing is becoming more and more popular, since it’s technology that actually allows us to communicate in an ever more global world, as we’re meant to, as if face-to-face, wherever we are.
3. Greater Interaction will get you to your objectives quicker.
Collaboration and teamwork need people to contribute. It’s pretty easy to be passive during a lengthening email thread or group chat, or to sit with mute on during a conference call. But hold a meeting or a video meeting and people are much more likely to get involved, to go back and forth, to gets answers and solutions quicker.
4. You control your message more effectively
A prearranged meeting puts your intended audience in the mindset of listening to what you have to say. They have put aside this time to hear you out. Text communications can be truncated. You need to hit send, then wait for a response without knowing when it will arrive, or if the reader is distracted. If your message is slightly off-key, you may not know about it since you only have a written response to go on. In a face-to-face scenario you can judge reactions, you can more easily modify or reposition your message to suite your audience.