GUEST AUTHOR BLOG: Why Online Communication Trumps In-Person by Debra A. Benton, author of "The Virtual Executive How to Act Like a CEO Online and Offline."
Conventional wisdom, even in today’s digital age, seems to hold that in-person communication is more effective than online methods in achieving goals, persuading a client or colleague, or furthering any business or workplace agenda. But after a great deal of thought and analysis from leaders and professionals around the world, we find that online work modes are ultimately more effective and efficient, while less costly.
It can also be equally (if not sometimes more) heartfelt and personalized.
Working online, an Internet search instantly allows us to find photos or video of people we’re doing business with, view reports or projects they’ve been involved in, and read articles they’ve written or in which they’ve been quoted. We can access online communities to read professional profiles, likes, people they follow, and who follows them.
Blogs, posts, comments, tags, e-mails, and text messages show if the person is a one-shot-hot-shot-empty-suit or a sustained solid citizen.
With video on a smart phone, tablet, or laptop, you can still look people you do business with ‘in the eye’; see the nervous or relaxed body language; observe the frowning or shining facial expression; experience their charisma or lack thereof; and hear the monotone or melodious voice. Plus: You simply get more things done a whole lot faster, cheaper, and with less effort across time zones, geographic distances, and for a larger number of people.
Digital discussions are more democratic. There is a lesser degree of instant prejudice and bias based on physical factors when online or on the phone that (unfairly) but stereotypically might work against, or for, a person, including: short/tall, skinny/heavyset, young/old, attractive/not so attractive, etc.
You can truly absorb what the other person is saying when you don’t have to engage in the physicality of face to face, such as mirroring, matching, pacing or posturing.
You have many more options to present yourself, your expertise, positions, and opinions through your posts, profiles, blogs, tweets, and videos. A CEO might prefer a personal meeting, a VP wants a video conference, a department manager wants an email trail, a new hire wants to text, and someone out there still wants a yellow sticky note attached to his desk.
You don’t have to respond in real time as you would if you’re facing someone in person. You can take a moment or two to mull over your reactions and collect your thoughts.
You have a world of information a click away. Not so long ago, global leaders and CEOs of multi-nationals owned the bulk of information access. Today, with information available on the Web, you can gain just as much data to respond, just as fast as anyone else in the world.
You can minimize downtime by communicating anytime and anywhere in the world without having to pack a bag, drive to the airport, make it through a TSA pat down, sit squashed for three hours in an airplane seat between two passengers who should have been cut off three beers ago, taxi to the meeting, only to find it postponed or canceled.
Aside from the personal benefit of online work, you help the world when you take into account the number of reduced automobile emissions and traffic on roads, increased safety, fewer parking lots needed, more room for vegetation, and save trees.
With all that being said you should not use online communication but instead do it face-to-face when you assign blame, discuss sensitive topics with thin-skinned people, or attack behavior in any fashion.
Aside from potentially legal ramifications, anything that can be misinterpreted will be whether good or bad news. One company president sent a simple note “Good job” with a smiley face emoticon attached. It wasn’t ten seconds later that he received the message back, “What the hell do you mean? I don’t appreciate you being facetious!”
In this case the president’s compliment was misinterpreted so you can imagine when any behavior discussion or even just a question is emailed.
Communicating electronically gives people false bravery; people can express true opinions without having to face others. This, of course, is a double-edged sword because people say or do something they wouldn’t normally since they don’t have to eyeball the person or group to whom they’re speaking!
Moreover, put yourself in the shoes of the other person and consider how you’d like the potentially negative information given to you. If a person is going to assign blame, discuss sensitive topics, and attack in any way you want him or her to have the courage of their conviction to do it to your face and not cower behind an electronic gadget.
Of course, if you look like a young Bo Derek or current Kate Upton I think you should not email or phone — just walk right into what you want with whomever. Your mission may be better served that way... Though as for most mere mortals, we need to carefully plot our most strategic modes of communication.
Today’s effective leader uses conventional face-to-face communication when possible and necessary but he or she also wisely uses all the other methods available as well. He or she moves seamlessly between the multitude of options to increase the chances of being heard – and in hearing from others. You don’t need to be in the flesh to demonstrate brilliance, skill, character; you just need electricity to power up and recharge your devices.
Debra A. Benton is author of THE VIRTUAL EXECUTIVE How to Act Like a CEO Online and Offline(McGraw-Hill, April 27, 2012). Benton directs consulting firm Benton Management Resources, which she founded in 1976 to provide executive development and career counseling. The bestselling author of How to Think Like a CEO and Secrets of a CEO Coach, Debra has worked in seventeen countries for clients ranging from American Express to United Airlines, and Mobil Oil to NASA.