How many Facebook friends do you have? 200? 500? 1,000? Now, how many “real” friends do you have? Cornell researchers found that we have an average of two confidants. Two. We run the same risk in our professional lives: email, instant messages, texts…all of this makes it easier to communicate – but also harder. Face-to-face communication is not obsolete; in fact, it is, in many ways, more important than ever.
So Close Yet So Far Away
Electronic communication is fine. Until it isn’t. I had a project recently where the workplaces were spread out between four or five buildings in a downtown area. The separation was by streets, not continents, but it might as well have been. No one ever met in person, and there was a lot of tension between the different offices. The lines of tension were drawn between people who were not in the same physical spot. “He didn’t return my call,” or “The tone of her emails are very rude,” and “He never followed up on that” were common complaints.
The discord grew worse and the company began to see more disputes and finger pointing. So I asked, “How do all these discussions happen? What happens when you sit down and talk? Have you ever thought about going over there and asking a question in person?”
There was a light bulb moment. “We never tried that!” They would send 1,000 emails but never stop by. Why? Because the first line of communication was email. If someone didn’t respond, the sender would call. But if that person didn’t pick up the phone or was out of the office, communication stopped. It didn’t progress to the next obvious step because they thought they had already taken that next step by calling, and instead the next step was stewing and being mad – this just lead to more misunderstandings and attribution of ill intent.
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No Substitute for Face Time
And that’s real face time, not Facetime. If we could figure out a substitute, airline companies would go broke, or “broker”. There is always a need for a certain amount of face-to-face meeting time. It is not always feasible, especially in a global economy, but when you can, it is beneficial to meet. Skype and other applications are useful – but there is no way to look each other in the eye at the same time. There may be a fraction of a second delay, which makes communication functional but not completely fluid.
For people in the same location, non-pressurized face-time is important. It may not be focused on any particular subject: you might take a coworker to grab lunch or meet with an associate for coffee. These simple interactions help develop trust, which is always easier in person.
This is the reason why social functions at work are so important. It’s not for the refreshments – it’s for the chance to see people outside of a regular work situation and get to know them. You will build a better relationship; you find out you have something in common; you find out you live pretty close and can carpool. Whatever. In any case, you have a better chance of understanding or getting to their real interests if you have to negotiate with them at some point. And if not, you have a stronger ally and connection, which is never a bad thing.
Having 3,000 Facebook friends doesn’t mean you know how to communicate with people; make the time to meet up IRL.