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Forging Stronger Relationships

by Michael J. Lyons | Dec 08, 2015
Encourage as much face-to-face interaction as possible with all of the people in your lifeā€”both professional and personal.

Call me old-fashioned, but I see a disturbing trend emerging in our society and in the business world. In the past few years, as we have become more and more reliant on technology, our face-to-face communication has diminished and suffered. And, ironically, the meeting industry—the standard-bearer for face-to-face communication—is an active participant in this shifting new era of communication behavior.

It has been proven over and over (and the Meetings Mean Business campaign has stressed) that face-to-face communication is more effective than email, texting, phone calls or videoconferencing. The conflict lies in the fact that even though face-to-face communication is the most powerful form of human interaction, technology has become an efficient and effective communication enabler—and is competing head-on with face-to-face at a rapid pace, whether we like it or not.

To that point, we are obviously not going to put down our devices and swear off technology altogether, but the fact remains that there is no substitute for face-to-face contact and we should not gloss over that reality. What is often missed when discussing this subject is the importance of body language when people are together in person.

Studies show that only 7 percent of communication is transmitted via the written or verbal word, meaning that an astounding 93 percent is attributed to nonverbal body language. It is only when we are face-to-face that we can interpret instantly the tone of a voice or look into someone’s eyes to deduce whether “it’s all good” really means all is actually good or whether it’s a suspicious statement. In person, we have a number of cues available in addition to the words themselves—facial expressions, gestures, body language and voice tone—that complement the words and the message.

But when communicating online, we lose that ability to accurately assess the other person’s receptiveness and emotional response to the dialogue. And this presents an unprecedented paradox: With all the powerful social technologies at our fingertips, we are more connected—and yet potentially more disconnected—than ever before.

Every relevant metric that I have seen indicates that we are interacting at breakneck speed and frequency through social media. But at what cost? Is communication now about rapid responses in lieu of thoughtful, measured exchanges? Are we really communicating? With 93 percent of the communication context removed, we are attempting to build relationships and draw conclusions based on short phrases, abbreviations and emoticons, which may or may not accurately represent the sender’s message.

And to make it worse, social media and technology have blurred the traditional barriers of space and time, creating a 24/7 world that poses a threat to the time-honored boundaries between our work life and personal life.

Ironically, social media is actually making us less social—and has become a substitute for the real thing. In the business world and in our industry, the use of electronic communication has overtaken face-to-face (and voice-to-voice) communication by a large margin.

This significant shift has occurred because of two major factors: the global economy, which demands speedy information flow, and the changing demographic in our employee population, namely the Gen Y and Millennial generations who now make up a rapidly growing segment of the workforce. These generations have demonstrated a lack of comfort with traditional interpersonal communication and prefer to use instant messaging or other social media rather than stop by someone’s office for a talk. This new communication preference is forcing employers to adapt in order to manage to a new set of expectations in their younger employees, and vice versa. But a bigger concern is raised in the process: the loss of social skills and the ability to speak clearly and articulately, and look someone in the eye without being uneasy.

The other issue is because most business communication is now done via emails, texts, instant messaging, intranets, blogs, websites and other technology-enabled media—without the benefit of body language—the potential for misunderstanding increases. In our high-stress, constantly rushed state of mind, we don’t always take the time to read and re-read each communication before hitting “send,” and the subtle nuances of the message may be misinterpreted

Conflicts can emerge over the tone (or brevity) of an email, or who was included or left off the all-important cc list. When a text is written in all capital letters, does that mean they’re shouting? Are one- or two-word responses a sign that the person is upset or doesn’t want to engage? We are left to guess what the sender means and in many cases conclusions are drawn based on very little information.

Not only has this created a serious dilemma in the workplace, but more importantly, it has also seeped into our personal lives with alarming impact. We have all probably sent an email on our smartphone, checked Facebook, sent a text or talked on the phone while in the presence of family members. Sometimes it seems impossible to avoid the constant connectivity that life in this century demands. But is this need to connect affecting our connection to the very people we love the most?

Studies have shown that children, in particular, feel that parents pay less attention to them than to their smartphones (and, admittedly, vice versa)—especially at mealtime, in the car or while attending events. I contend that none of us want to create a chasm in our family relationships, so we must make a conscious effort to modify our behavior. It may be hard to break the habit, but resisting the temptation to grab that device every five minutes while in the presence of loved ones, and spending more genuine face-to-face time with them without distraction or interruption, is not a bad idea.

Simply stated, in order to “save face-to-face” we all have to do our part by making adjustments in our daily online conduct, and by encouraging as much face-to-face interaction as possible with all of the people in our lives—both professional and personal.

We know that strong business relationships are forged through networking and getting to know people in person. It has been proven that clients buy from people they like, trust and have confidence in. But in order to develop that rapport, face-to-face interaction is necessary—online communication alone won’t cut it.

Michael is a highly respected expert in the meeting industry, having spent 40+ years in senior-level posts with numerous firms, including Carlson Wagonlit and Reed Exhibitions. Most recently, he served as exhibition director for IBTM America, which he left in 2014 to be a professional speaker, actor and consultant. For more information, visit www.michaeljlyons.com.

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