It’s Time to Invest in Face-to-Face Conversations – Part 2


It’s Time to Invest in Face-to-Face Conversations – Part 2

When you meet someone face-to-face, the conversation may have a very different outcome compared to when you communicate remotely, via digital technologies.

In my previous article, I identified five ways in which people tend to think and behave differently when you see them in person.

They listen to you more objectively, and with greater consideration and empathy. They are more open to sharing their honest thoughts, and are also more present than during a conference call, for example.

However, communicating remotely can also be appealing – it can often save you time, money and inconvenience.

So when is it worthwhile to organise a face-to-face meeting to talk about an issue with your teams or clients? Here are a few situations where in-person interactions will really pay off.

1. Building and maintaining a cohesive team.

When people who work together don’t know each other well – perhaps because the team has just been formed or new members have joined – it’s always a good idea to bring them together.

Having the chance to sit down for a chat and perhaps also work side-by-side for a little while will help people get to know and trust one another.

Distributed teams, or teams with remote members, can also benefit from regular face-to-face catch-ups. In fact, some businesses only recruit remote employees who live close enough to fly to the office regularly for meetings.

2. Discussing complex or ambiguous issues.

Work would be so much simpler if all our ideas and expertise could be translated to documents and spreadsheets. But our mind is nothing like a well-organised library. 

The problems we face in business are also often complicated; we need to deal with competing priorities, constant change and moving targets.

Put simply; we’re trying to solve complex and often ambiguous challenges with a somewhat messy, complicated mind. Hence, we need all the help we can get to communicate clearly and effectively.

Let’s look at a common example.

Say you come across a task that you can’t complete with your existing tools or systems. This can be a good time to review how you do things and to innovate.

What does the ideal outcome look like? What resources do you have for solving the problem? And what are the priorities, and where are you willing to compromise? If you and your team are not sure of all the answers, it’s best if you have a face-to-face conversation.

Studies show that trying to resolve a complex or ambiguous problem through digital media can lead to misunderstandings and conflict. (Here is an excellent article touching on this issue.) Members often message each other back-and-forth and have several failed attempts before the issue gets resolved, if it get resolved at all.

3. Tapping into imagination, intuition and emotions.

I’ve spent several years in ‘professional’ environments where some colleagues found me touchy-feely and soft because I refused to mute my left brain.

But today’s business climate is different. Our clients and team members alike are looking for a real connection and exciting experiences. Their problems are unique, multifaceted and often personal, and we can only give them what they truly need if we’re able to move beyond rational, linear thinking.

You can find plenty of evidence supporting why it’s worth inviting people to bring their whole selves to work.

We tend to think more expansively and solve problems more successfully when we tap into our imagination, intuition and emotions. We learn faster and also teach better. And we express ourselves more powerfully, building stronger and more caring relationships.

As a workplace consultant, I’ve produced my most well-received works and developed the most fruitful collaborative relationships from this space.

However, most of us can’t just drop our guard at the click of our fingers; we need to feel safe and inspired. And being surrounded by empathetic and attentive people who are in a similar frame of mind can help.

So whenever you plan a conversation where you need participants to go deep, make sure you bring them together.

4. Dealing with stress, disagreements and conflicts.

Here’s perhaps my most important advice: please try to discuss issues in person when there’s tension in the air. When you’re dealing with stressful situations, disagreements and conflicts, for example.

I don’t need to explain why objectivity, consideration and presence are especially important for working through issues when emotions are high.

Still, in my experience, these are the times when we are most inclined to discuss problems remotely, usually because we want to save time or to avoid confrontation.

During my career, I’ve experienced an array of stressful and frustrating situations that could have been handled better by smarter communication. Tense discussions conducted via emails, online chats or over the phone rarely lead to satisfactory solutions.

Even in a well-managed business, misunderstandings and stressful situations can occur once in a while. To give yourself the best chance to save the day, I strongly recommend that you create focused, rational conversations where all members are truly heard.

These conversations might not be a walk in the park, but will certainly help you and your team to understand each other and make the most of the situation.

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