Few people better understand the efficacy of the direct approach than Mina Chang, CEO of Linking the World International, an advocacy group.
After assuming her position in 2010, the former recording artist endeavored to visit LTW teams in Haiti, Kenya, Thailand, Nigeria and the Philippines. That enabled her to further her understanding of what was being accomplished there — building on the foundation she had established as a LTW ambassador from 2005-10 — while at the same time getting to know her staff better.
As she wrote for Forbes, that face-to-face approach had incalculable benefit — that the respective parties “built trust, understanding, and a real sense of a shared mission, and this has made all the difference in the world.”
“That’s because,” she added, “you do business with people, not entities. The beauty of communication is found in the nuance that’s only felt in face-to-face conversations.”
The superiority of such interactions over those that take place remotely — via telephone, Skype or such apps as Facetime — has indeed been demonstrated again and again. This is not to say that there is no benefit from the latter forms of communication. They are less expensive and more time-efficient than bringing people together for meetings and conferences, and more easily accessed from multiple locations.
It is to say that face-to-face interactions offset those advantages, and then some. First and foremost, there is the ability of each party to read nonverbal cues, which according to a UCLA study determine 93 percent of the effectiveness of communication. There is greater clarity, less likelihood of misunderstanding and more buy-in on the part of all parties. Relationships are built. Trust is established.
Underscoring those points was a study in which 45 participants were tasked with asking 10 strangers apiece to complete a survey. Half were asked face-to-face, the other half via email. It was found that those contacted directly were 34 times more likely to respond positively than those contacted indirectly.
It has also been pointed out that participants in telephone conferences are more likely to disengage— that their minds tend to be everywhere but on the conversation at hand. They might be checking email, text messages or doing any number of other things, whether work-related or not.
That is not the case when two or more people are sharing the same room. There is simply no opportunity to multi-task, and less inclination to do so.
In a group setting, in fact, it has been found that “emotional contagion” comes into play, where those who are part of the group in question are influenced by each other’s attitudes. An example cited in one report was a 2008 Starbucks convention, in which over 10,000 employees gathered in New Orleans. It was, CEO Howard Schultz said, especially productive, and worth the cost of bringing people from all over the country.
Chang’s approach to meetings centers on letting everyone know ahead of time exactly what the agenda will be and how long the proceedings might be expected to last. In a unique step, she also makes sure the chairs are removed from a meeting room, believing that when people stand there is less unnecessary chatter.
And finally, she urges that all attendees simply listen. Again, that is much more likely to occur in a face-to-face setting than otherwise.