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Communication skills: Face-to-face is always better

Jeff Haden
Business Journalist

Jeff Haden is a bestselling ghostwriter, speaker, Inc. Magazine contributing editor, and LinkedIn Influencer

Jeff Haden
Business Journalist

Jeff Haden is a bestselling ghostwriter, speaker, Inc. Magazine contributing editor, and LinkedIn Influencer

Improvements in technology have meant you don’t need to see your clients. But, Jeff Haden argues, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.

The recent revolution in business communication means I’m rarely in the same room with clients. In fact, I rarely ever see my clients’ faces. I’ve worked with a number of customers for years and I’ve never even seen their photos because our business communication is based solely on lines of text on a screen and the occasional disembodied voice.

And it works… until it doesn’t. What was intended to be a playful tone in an email can come across as sarcastic or even biting. A phone call comes across as cold and disinterested without facial expressions that could have conveyed empathy and understanding.

Worst case scenario, you could almost lose an important client over a simple misunderstanding. 

Man and woman conversing

The tyranny of distance

Even though I had written over 200,000 words for this client over the years and we had a great professional relationship, we had never met. We’d never even talked on the phone.

One day he sent an email asking me to write a column for him under a tight deadline, but only if I had time. “If you can do it, great – if not, don’t worry about it. Just let me know if you can.”  I assumed it wasn’t urgent or critical. I also assumed “let me know if you can” meant I didn’t need to let him know if I couldn’t.

Since I didn’t really have time, I didn’t respond.

(And you now know exactly where this is headed.)

He felt I let him down, as he should have – not because I didn’t write the column but because I didn’t let him know I couldn’t. When he expressed that sentiment in an email I assumed he was kidding so I responded the same way. He naturally didn’t understand why I was being flippant about a serious subject. I didn’t understand why he was upset.

We exchanged several emails before I realised a great business relationship was quickly sliding off the rails. I mentioned it to a friend and said, “I really need to get him on the phone.”

My friend said, “No you don’t. You need to see him. He needs to see you. And it needs to be today. Get him on a video chat.”

Putting on your Blue Jeans

It took a little convincing, because by this point my client wasn’t really in the mood to talk to me, but he finally agreed. I suggested using a certain popular video conferencing software. He uses BlueJeans. He wanted to talk at 2 p.m. I was going to be out of the office at that time. No problems. It worked on mobile devices.

So we “met” online. I apologised. I explained. I told him how much our professional relationship meant to me. He scolded me. I took it. We talked – and more importantly, we saw each other. He saw the sincerity on my face. I saw his face as he spoke and could react to his expressions: knowing when I needed to go farther, knowing when I was starting to “sell after the sale.” 

Connection is important

We connected in a professional yet also a personal way – and in the process turned what had been a major problem into an opportunity to actually strengthen our professional relationship.

All it took was a little face-to-face time.

We all know the importance of face time. We all know that business connections are stronger when they’re personal as well as professional. Yet we’re all busy, and naturally turn to tools like email and text, and the occasional phone call, to establish and maintain those relationships.

But sometimes nothing can be as powerful as speaking face-to-face… and what happened to me (no, wait, it didn’t happen to me, I caused it) was a great reminder that online meeting software can strike the perfect balance between efficiency and efficacy.

The next time you want to strengthen a business relationship – or repair a damaged one – try a video chat. It’s easy, it’s cost-effective and can be an incredibly powerful way to convince, to persuade, to connect… or even to say you’re sorry. 

Using digital tools for real life experiences

Technology doesn’t have to be cold or impersonal. Browse Telstra’s range of business tools to find a plethora of practical and helpful communication resources, or use the tech advisor platform to find solutions to your circumstances.

Originally  published 11 August 2015. Updated 29th July 2019.

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