E-mail, instant messages and other electronic tools have made communication more efficient, but face-to-face chats remain critical in the workplace.
For most of us, it would be difficult to imagine interacting with co-workers without e-mail, chat programs or other electronic tools. However, face-to-face communication, which augments words with verbal intonations, facial expressions and body language, remains the richest medium for effective information exchanges. And it is essential for certain situations.
Here's when you should you put down the phone or BlackBerry and meet in person:
Conveying Critical or Personal Communication. Anything complex, confidential or personal should be conveyed in person. Meeting face to face is essential when disciplinary action is involved, but in-person meetings are also beneficial when you're delegating or explaining tasks or initiating assignments. Meeting in person gives weight to your discussion, offers privacy, and lets both parties communicate verbally and nonverbally.
Developing Interpersonal Relationships. By interacting face-to-face with team members, both individually and as a group, you?ll build consensus and motivate each to achieve. A manager who stays in her office, reaching out only by phone or e-mail, not only will fail to command the respect and influence she needs to succeed, but she also sets an example that discourages staff from speaking out when situations warrant personal interaction.
Voicing Thoughts and Ideas. Back-to-back meetings typically aren't productive for anyone, but be careful not to go too far in an attempt to reduce the number, expense or time associated with face-to-face meetings. In-person meetings give voice to your team members, assuring them that their opinions and ideas are important to you. This is also crucial for building a cohesive team and making sure each member understands and buys into goals and processes. Electronic communication, in contrast, can feel one-directional from a subordinate's point of view.
Mediating Conflict. Creative disagreement is at the heart of team dynamics, but it should be carefully mediated. All it takes is a single misinterpreted e-mail message to turn what should be a productive discussion into an unproductive argument. When conflict is out in the open, participants can read each other's subtle visual signs and gain greater understanding.
Perhaps the most important reason to meet face-to-face is also the most obvious. It confers particular importance - even urgency - to the issue at hand. When something is important, it deserves face time.