In The News

Sun 3 Dec 2017

The Importance of Face Time

Business By Social
man and woman facing each other

The National Australia bank has announced it will cut thousands of tellers’ jobs, eventually replaced them with Artificial Intelligence. This means there will be fewer people to talk to at your bank and more robots.

While texts, emails and AI are convenient, the most crucial conversations we have in our lives are always best face-to-face. When people get married, when businesses close a deal, when sporting stars change clubs and world leaders sign a treaty– it’s not via Skype or email – it’s in person.

Social scientists also claim regular face-to-face contact is like a vitamin pill against depression.

Despite rapid technological disruption, the most enduring business leadership skill is the ability to communicate a company’s message internally and externally.  Successful organisations employ people who can communicate one-on-one or to a group  in a structured and well thought-out way. These people possess a curiosity and willingness to listen to other thoughts and opinions, which may differ from their own.

Many organisations talk about embracing diversity, but the real issue is not just about employing more women or people from diverse cultural backgrounds, it’s about recognising and understanding different perspectives and personality styles. There is enormous strength in being able to have tough conversations and give robust feedback in the workplace, while being aware and comfortable with diverse motives and viewpoints.

Australia’s recent marriage equality debate is an example of where many people have not been able to really listen to the other side without dissolving into schoolyard taunts and name-calling. Unfortunately, the anonymity of social media and online forums sometimes fosters cowardly behaviour.

Emails are very convenient in bridging time and geographical distance but sometimes the risk of being misconstrued, taken out of context or even offending the reader can outweigh the benefits. It’s also important for the person receiving feedback not to become defensive and shut down. It’s best to listen and then ask for clarification and examples on how to improve their performance next time. In this way both parties can learn and grow.

Online communication has streamlined business for companies with different locations but we need to be the master of technology, not its slave.

Recently, the corporate training and leadership company, Talkforce, took part in a discussion with business people, academics and university students. One of the university’s challenges was to boost student engagement in class. At the same time the university was keen to shift more lectures online. Talkforce Managing Director Christopher Whitnall suggested the focus on technology was devaluing the face-to-face classroom interaction.

Artificial Intelligence is also creeping into recruitment, which has traditionally valued superior presentation and communication skills.

“I know a young graduate who applied for a job with a two-tier accounting firm. The interview was conducted on-line by a robot. I wonder if there was a video tracking the candidate’s facial expressions?”

Christopher Whitnall says organisations can over-complicate matters by upgrading their technology at the expense of investing in people skills. He says if you really want meaningful conversations you should meet face-to-face, or at the very least, pick up the phone. In the long run, it will save time; expand your understanding; and strengthen your business relationships. Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best ones.

Theresa Miller is an author and journalist and communications trainer – specialising in media / presentation skills and business writing workshops. She is also an associate trainer with talkforce.

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