It’s been a life-saver, certainly a business-saver for many of us over the past year as we’ve adapted and learned to communicate virtually.
So, what happens when the pandemic begins to fade? What happens when once again we have the option to travel and communicate in person?
Will things go back to how they were pre-pandemic?
And yet, in-person, face-to-face communication will likely still play an important role.
In his book Tell to Win, entertainment titan Peter Guber shares his belief about the power of communicating person-to-person. Heartfelt connection often depends on infinitesimal and interpersonal nuances.
“With someone face to face, you react in your gut — your enteric nervous system gives you a visceral read on the other person,” Peter quotes Chris Kemp, Chairman and CEO of Astra and formerly Chief Technology Officer of NASA.
“It’s a holdover from our primitive ancestors who had to size up a stranger instantly to determine whether to trust him, fight him, or flee for their lives,” Chris says. “You don’t get this response with technology because your body knows you’re talking to a screen.”
What’s missing in virtual communication is body language and micro-expressions.
We are wired to read one another’s “micro expressions” – involuntary facial expressions that occur as fast as one twenty-fifth of a second, says Michael Wesch, a Kansas State University cultural anthropologist who’d been dubbed “the explainer” by Wired magazine.
These microscopic expressions signal the seven universal emotions: disgust, anger, fear, sadness, happiness, surprise, and contempt.
“The face makes more than four thousand different expressions, and they’re subtle but critical because we subconsciously pick up on them and react to them,” Michael tells us. “Because they’re encoded in our facial muscles, “these signals are very difficult, if not impossible, to fake, and we rely on them heavily in high-stakes situations such as business negotiations.
“Both the mind and the heart recognize these signals, but current technology is not yet fully successful in conveying or duplicating them.”
When the stakes are high, if it’s an option, Peter believes in being there in person: “Distance inevitably puts me at a disadvantage. That’s why, when it really matters, I walk, drive, or fly, if necessary, to be in the same room with my employees, shareholders, investors, customers, and business partners.
“The micro-expressions that Michael describes – the pauses, eye contact, body language, and gestures we make while in the room – invariably lose some or all of their impact when told from a distance using current media,” Peter writes.
“You want your audience to feel ‘I want to invest in you. I get your story,'” Peter says. “How do you make they them feel good about you? By tapping into their empathy and engaging their interest. The best possible way to do that is in person.”
When the stakes are high, there is real benefit to being in person.
“If there’s something incredibly important on which everything depends, you always want to be in the room,” says Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post and Thrive Global.
“The more time we spend in front of screens, the more we crave human contact,” she says. “I believe that intimate in-person interactions where we tell stories to realize our ambitions, goals, and dreams will only intensify as technology expands.”
The best approach according to Peter?
“The best strategy is to be ambidextrous, employing a “tell to win” philosophy to live, play, learn, and succeed in both worlds.”
Reflection: Thinking ahead to when in-person meetings are a possibility, what factors will I use to determine whether it is best to communicate face-to-face or virtually?
Action: Journal about my answer to the question above.