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Have we lost touch with face-to-face communication?

Posted: 15th Nov 2018

Before you read on, look around your office – how many people are actually talking to each other? I’d guess that most are plugged into their earphones, or beavering away behind their computer screens, probably emailing the person that sits opposite them. Am I right?

Typing has become our default communication mode!

In the race to innovate and implement new technology, the digitalisation of the way we work has never been faster. But is this power of technology in our lives getting us out of the habit of communicating with our voices?

I think it is, and as a result, I’m concerned that the hugely valuable art of spoken communication is being lost in our workplaces - simply because we don’t have the opportunity, or even the inclination to talk to each other enough. After all, it’s far easier to send a bulk email to ten people, than it is to call them all individually or initiate face-to-face meetings.

Instead, most of us are spending our working days emailing, skyping or texting, sparingly picking up the phone, or meeting in person to have a conversation. Typing is now our default, go-to mode of communication and our keyboards are the helpers – usually out of convenience and speed, but mainly because we’re on auto-pilot.

Why we need to talk more, and type less

I’ve said this before, but the human touch (including our voices) just can’t be replicated by technology. Yes, email or Skype messaging might be quicker and easier, but these forms of communication usually aren’t as effective as the spoken word – and that’s what many of us just don’t realise.

Talking is usually more productive. Many of us focus on emptying our inboxes every day to make us feel more productive and efficient, when really, the opposite is happening. With more of us sending and receiving more emails than ever before, it’s no wonder that it’s not the most effective communication tool. We just can’t keep up, and as a result, the “Sorry for the delayed response” line is becoming too common in our inboxes.

However, using our voices to communicate, ask a question or provide a brief for an urgent task is far more likely to a). An actual response and b). A quicker response. In fact, after one person has spoken, the other replies in an average of just 200 milliseconds, compared to an email or text that can be swallowed into a black hole, never to be read, let alone replied to.

But it’s not just speed of response which makes your voice a productive form of communication. It’s the fact that this response will probably be more useful. In fact, a face-to-face request is 34 times more successful than email. Plus, I’m willing to bet that you can talk faster than you can type! 

Talking to each other develops a stronger rapport. It’s almost impossible to build up a productive rapport over email or via digital messaging – no matter how many emoji’s you use. You just can’t get a real feel for the person behind the keyboard without actually hearing their voice.

This couldn’t be truer than in the world of recruitment. Yes, it’s possible to build a picture of a candidate's technical skills and experience by reading through their CV, but it’s much harder to make an accurate judgement of their softer skills, and really get an understanding of what they’re looking for by reading words on a screen. That’s one of the many reasons our recruiters will always prioritise voice communication over keyboard when building a relationship with their candidates.

Plus, the typed word just doesn’t capture tone or expression - both fundamental elements of effective rapport building. Using your voice helps understand your personality, whilst ensuring the message you’re trying to get across is clear and understood.

Interestingly, the speed of our digital response is now perceived as a key indicator of our trustworthiness. So, to put this into real terms, by not responding to an email in a timely manner for example, we could essentially risk signalling to the sender that their request isn’t a priority for us, or that we don’t perceive it to be important. And, as the number of emails we’re all receiving continues to rise, the more likely it is that this will happen, and the trust amongst colleagues, clients and stakeholders will become weaker and weaker over time.

So, next time you’re embroiled in an email conversation which is going back and forth and dragging on and on, book a meeting or pick up the phone - you’ll get the outcome you need far more quickly, whilst ensuring the relationship with the recipient remains intact. Or, when an urgent task pops up which you need to delegate to a member of your team, resist the urge to send an email marked as “high importance”. Instead brief them face-to-face or give them a call. Once the task has been understood, then is the time to follow up with a confirmation email. And, if you feel telephone calls are too disruptive or you don’t have time for a face-to-face meeting, try sending a voice memo instead – telephones, meetings and video conferencing are not the only ways you can use your voice to communicate.