Friday 18 October 2019

Better face-to-face skills deliver a competitive edge

The communicator: Gina London
The communicator: Gina London

Gina London

Just two weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of discovering more effective ways to communicate in business outside of email. This week, allow me to explore this topic with you a bit more deeply.

You see, last Wednesday, I had the pleasure of attending a presentation event co-hosted by the MBA Association of Ireland at the Dublin law offices of Mason Hayes and Curran. The illustrious speaker was Harvard Business Review contributor and communications coach Nick Morgan.

My good friend, John Keating, who leads, not one, but two Toastmasters groups down in Cork had invited me to attend and I was sure not to miss it. That's because Nick's new book, Can You Hear Me, focuses on why learning to consciously deliver the right verbal and non-verbal cues during face-to-face communications, will always trump any other form of communication. Yes. Yes. And yes.

So, settle in and let me help you hear what Nick had to say on the matter.

Nick's premise for his book is that while we're today surrounded by a world of virtual communications, instead of bringing us all closer as you might first imagine, these tools are fraught with communications pitfalls.

From email to social media to audio and even video conferencing, they all have several things in common that prevent us from communicating as effectively as when we are in person.

He describes five basic problems with virtual communications.


1 The Lack of Feedback

As humans, our brains are wired to be constantly looking for immediate feedback from the person with whom we're interacting. Furrowed brows. An inflection in the voice. The variety of cues we simply don't get in emails, social posts, and to lesser degrees, in audio or even some video conferences. We fill that void with our own thoughts, scenarios or anxieties about the interaction which can result in confusion, tension or frustration.

2 The Lack of Empathy

Because we get limited feedback, we don't engage as deeply with the other person which results in a lack of empathy for them. Consider rampant online trolling. These people write things that most would never dare say in person. Likewise, we have tendencies to more abrupt to colleagues when not face-to-face.

3 The Lack of Control

If you've ever seen an embarrassing photo of you pop up on the internet from those party-filled college days, you understand how easy it is to lose control of your image in a never-forget online world. Maintaining control requires constant vigilance.

4 The Lack of Emotion

Why was there a long silence after I asked that question on the audio call? Were the others on mute or had they left the room? What does the punctuation or word-choice of that email really imply?

Neuroscience research shows how strong a role emotion plays in decision-making. But the virtual world makes it difficult or impossible to consistently demonstrate our own emotions or to accurately gauge those of others. This can result in misunderstandings, poor decisions and more.

5 The Lack of Connection and Commitment

All of these difficulties mean our levels of trust between people communicating in the virtual world are fragile. Unless you bolster your online communications with real, face-to-face meetings, you're at risk of feeling more alone than you are part of a committed team.

Thankfully, after tackling the problems, Nick also provided tips to help better navigate virtual tools since they're here to stay. For instance, when you're with multiple people in different time zones on that next conference call, provide a system so everyone can let everyone else know their emotions at the start and at regular points throughout the call.

Take control of your online persona now, before it takes control of you. Make sure your intent in your writing is clear. Don't be afraid to use emojis to emphasise that intent.

To sum up, Nick stresses that: "In-person communication is incredibly rich, loaded with information about how the person we're talking to is feeling at every second of the conversation. It's satisfying in a way that virtual communication can't be."

We stand a better chance of connecting with our intended audience if we are with them in person - 3-D is always better than 2-D.

A participant turned to me and spoke the following words at the end of Nick's presentation as if thunderstruck: "The people who are the best at interpersonal communications skills will have a competitive edge." YES!

So, since you're reading this in print at the moment, I want you to close your eyes and imagine me in living colour and in 3-D. I'm standing right next to you and I'm raising my hands to your shoulders and (gently, of course) shaking you back and forth. Now I'm saying in a loving and encouraging tone, "Yes. The people who learn to communicate better as empathetic human beings will indeed have the competitive advantage." You can re-open your eyes.

Whew. Okay. As the title of Nick's book says Can you hear me?

Listen: You can communicate more consciously - virtually and in person. Learn it. Live it. I promise you'll love it. And others will love you more too.

  • With corporate clients on five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon

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