While the number of available communication methods was once quite small, it is now amazingly large and continues to grow in both size and complexity. You can call, meet, write, email, text, Twitter, fax, and post to a social or professional networking group. You can automate messages, share calendars, send broadcast messages to hundreds of people at once. You can provide customer service via menu, sparing all parties from ever talking to a living, breathing person.
These methods are often efficient, often expedient, often excellent. Each has its place. But each also involves a distance that affects relationships and, while communication depends upon many elements for its effectiveness, one central element is the nature of an established relationship.
Meeting a person face-to-face, talking, watching expressions flicker over a face and noting how gestures match words is a superior way to build a relationship. In an interview with the Associated Press about the recent G-20 meeting, ECG Founder and Chairman Peter Giuliano emphasizes the importance of "offline, non-arranged" contact and advised that personal, face-to-face contact among leaders matters. In an offline conversation, Peter added that face-to-face contact matters in organizations of every sort and at every level.
The relationship built between living, breathing persons through in-person interaction can make a difference in the delivery and acceptance of ideas and actions. It can strengthen the credibility and goodwill central to discussion and compromise; it can widen the common ground on which understanding grows.
In-person interaction can also meet certain social needs that facilitate a collaborative and efficacious work environment. Because it provides opportunities for colleagues to experience and negotiate one another's communication styles, it can lead them to develop increasingly effective means of addressing those styles and adjusting responses in consideration of them. Personal contact can meet the identification needs of those who are motivated by belonging to a group but also the recognition needs of those who find support through individual relationships. In both cases, forming relationships with other persons helps ease the isolation so often produced by an information-driven culture, putting a face and personality to the sometimes ill-defined audience with which we communicate.
Leaders of many types of organizations understand that in-person contact adds value. They seek such contact themselves but also provide occasions such as off-site meetings so that employees can build and strengthen relationships, thereby improving collegiality and work flow. Such improvement may occur during the formal parts of the meeting but also during the informal parts, during the "off-line, non-arranged" moments of which Peter spoke. In those moments and during the conversations that fill them, people often find themselves thinking new thoughts, articulating new ideas, envisioning new solutions, forming new collaborations. It's one of the consequences of personal contact.
Without face-to-face interaction, it's difficult to identify the communication styles and needs of colleagues, bosses, and clients. It's difficult to know what moves them, what frightens them, what motivates them. Without knowing these things, it's almost impossible to develop effective approaches to communicating with others. And when there is little personal contact, opportunities to innovate and collaborate shrink.
Sometimes it's simply essential to shorten the distance and get personal. We are all living, breathing persons. Relate to it.