The most effective communication is face-to-face. That’s because only a tiny part of communicating depends on the actual words we use. Eye rolls, frowns, cheery tones, attentive postures and a million other little cues tip us off to the real meaning of what’s being said.
In fact, writes Douglas Van Praet for psychologytoday.com, only 7 percent of a message is based on the words. Praet references work by UCLA psychology professor emeritus Albert Mehrabian, noting that intonation accounts for another 38 percent and facial expression or body language is 55 percent.
Additionally, there are neural differences between face-to-face communication and other types of communication. Through brain scans, a 2012 study at Beijing Normal University revealed that face-to-face communication (particularly dialogue where both participants speak in turn) has special neural features that other types of communication (back-to-back dialogue, face-to-face monologue or back-to-back monologue) do not.
But obviously it’s not really practical to have in-person conversations every time you’ve got information to share, is it? And phone calls, email, texts and social media give us a variety of convenient options for communicating at work.
So, when is face-to-face conversation your best choice?
Any time there are emotional issues, you need to have an open discussion, you’re trying to convey importance or you’re trying to establish trust, suggests businessinsider.com. Here are some specific instances:
- With a new workplace colleague, employee or boss. Building strong, trusting workplace relationships depends in large part on getting to know someone. And face-to-face interactions (along with good follow-through, of course) are instrumental here.
- For employee evaluations. Effective employee appraisals should include dialogue. When you’re delivering negative and positive feedback, getting the employee’s perspective is important to changed behavior.
- When setting goals. Inviting discussion and giving employees an opportunity to weigh in on goals helps ensure they’re set at a motivating level. Seeing those little visual cues also helps you get a read on buy-in.
- In negotiations. About 50 percent of negotiations conducted by email end in impasse, according to Harvard Business School professor Kathleen Valley. People usually play nicer when they’re face-to-face, so whenever possible, handle negotiations in person.
- To gently get to the bottom of a misunderstanding. Sending strongly worded emails before you have all the facts can damage workplace relationships long term. Instead, sit down privately and explain what’s bugging you, with the assumption that you might be missing some information.
- In times of change. People’s reactions to news of change can be hard to read. But if you’re the boss and you want to ensure everyone is on board, seeing reactions and listening to concerns can help smooth the way.
- When you’re making a request. This suggestion from hbr.org, cited findings from a study indicating that people are “much more likely to agree to complete a survey when they were asked in-person as opposed to over email.”
We’re all comfortable drafting a quick email or text to communicate in the office. But remember that in certain circumstances, having a conversation in person is more effective. Don’t use text and email to avoid a difficult conversation or simply because you don’t want to listen to the push back. It’s a coward’s way out.