Face-to-Face Communication versus Electronic Communication
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Face-to-Face Communication versus Electronic Communication
A recent report revealed that the millennial cohort prefers electronic communication like email and text over face-to-face communication with peers and acquaintances. However, as per the same study, electronic communication like emailing and instant messaging are not as effective as engaging in face-to-face communication (Tilleman, 2018). Similarly, there is a general understanding in the business world that, whereas digital communication represents a powerful communication tool, it cannot replace face-to-face (F2F) communication. In the absence of F2F conversations, the lack of facial emotions and nonverbal cues deters successful communication and encumbers advancement of relationships. A particular study of preteens spending time at a summer camp established that when they spent five days without any form of electronic communication, the preteens demonstrated improvement in their nonverbal communication abilities (Uhls & Bos, 2015). It is in the public domain that nonverbal communication represents a considerable per4centage of all communication and that when faced with F2F interaction, as diminutive as seven per cent of communication is verbal (Uhls & Bos, 2015). Hence, the preteens improved immediately their capacity to understand what forms the larger proportion of communication in real life. That said, it is important to realize that the form of communication adopted at any instance is convenient with the purpose, audience, and general context.
The Significance of Face-to-Face (F2F) Communication in the Digital Age
In the contemporary digital age, it is evident that technology has transformed how individuals and corporations communicate. It is now possible for colleagues to collaborate irrespective of their location, leaders can relay important messages to their employees efficiently, and employees can even work from the comfort of their homes or remote offices. Yet, in spite of the distinct benefits of telecommuting and digital communication, many restrictions make it inefficient, and it would be fallacious to assume that F2F communication within workplaces could lose its value (Tilleman, 2018). Akin to many other soft aptitudes and skills, it is possible to undervalue communication within organizations since it is a difficult concept to measure with precision, but its influence in moulding business outcomes, staff engagement, and organizational culture cannot be underestimated. Regardless of the level of innovation in communication, the impact of F2F communication cannot be replaced.
That said, it is easy to circumvent F2F communication in the digital age. For example, communicating via social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram has gained increasing popularity over the past years, with individuals finding themselves having increased interactions with peers online as opposed to meeting up. To test this hypothesis, Tilleman (2018) used data gathered from 742 participants to gain an intensive insight into the influence of frequency, relational distance, and information content on the mode of communication, as well as the interaction between electronic contacts and F2F communication. The results demonstrated that F2F contact frequency is positively correlated with that of electronic communication, indicating a complementary effect. In terms of relational distance and information content, the investigation revealed that, based on descriptive analyses, synchronous services or modes of telephone conversations and F2F contacts are utilized more for matters considered urgent and modes, asynchronous especially email, tend to be more influential with increases in distance (Tilleman, 2018). Lastly, ordered probit analyses demonstrated that the frequencies of both electronic and F2F communication diminishes when the relational and physical distance to social network followers increases.
Consequently, it is important to point out the complementary nature of F2F and electronic communication. The increased access to mobile technology and networks should not be the reason to abandon F2F communication (Baruah, 2012). Investigations of virtual teams have established that individuals are even inclined to construe email texts for nonverbal communication. However, the challenge with this assumption is that individuals tend to use shorthand, for instance, construing direct communication as annoyance or anger, when it might be the opposite. Moreover, it has been established that it becomes more challenging to manage intercultural differences when using electronic communication (Baruah, 2012). As it is, people struggle with F2F communication, but there is a significant need for more contextual cues in intercultural interactions. Thus, people are even more challenged to understand intercultural electronic communication. Essentially, F2F communication permits individuals to express and construe a more complete range of concepts and emotions. While individuals might be adapted to enhance their capacity to construe electronic communications such as texts, it remains lesser than F2F concerning effectiveness.
Electronic communication is a poor supernumerary for the human interaction necessary for individuals to establish a more meaningful association with others and foster trust, credibility, and loyalty (Wood, 2015). More so, in the business world, the choice of communication will determine the effectiveness of the message and fostering the desired organizational culture. However, it is important to note that electronic communication can also convey emotions. Emotions are relevant to online and digital communications in various ways. According to Wood (2015), the reasons that people might not express emotions during F2F conversations might also be relevant when using social media platforms. There is a perception that it is socially unacceptable to express particular feelings online, and people might decide not to express their thoughts to protect others or themselves, or they might realize that their roles it makes it incongruous to express distinct emotions. When communicating with peers, family, and friends, any of the reasons might lead individuals not to portray their emotions. Yet, individuals might be more likely to show emotions, including those that are socially unfitting, when they are communicating to people who they do not know personally. The anonymity that social media provides might embolden some individuals to post their hate speech, rants, and other invasive or belligerent comments that they would not say in F2F communication. In other words, the people involved might feel less inhibited by social morals when they communicate digitally or online.
Secondly, the use of electronic communication such as social media might help individuals to experience and express their feelings. When something shocking or sad occurs, people tend to connect more with others who are likely to share their feelings regarding that particular incident (Turkle, 2016). For instance, following the demise of pop star Michael Jackson, his fans grieved together on online platforms. Studies established that the content found on YouTube helped the fans to overcome their grief (Turkle, 2016). Likewise, many individuals find like-minded groups to celebrate together during happy occasions such as weddings or make sense of incidences of violence, for example, school shootings.
Third, electronic communication can substitute emotional involvement with individuals in F2F relationships. It becomes easier to turn to online acquaintances than real-life partners or friends when individuals desire emotional connection (Wood, 2015). People can say what they really feel, which is not always the case for F2F communications. It becomes less emotionally threatening and easier to turn to online associates than F2F friends. As people share more of their feelings through electronic means such as social media, they become more attached to their virtual friends. However, whereas relying on such acquaintances can satisfy individuals’ emotional needs, there is the risk of becoming overly involved with virtual friends than real F2F friends. Essentially, people who rely more on electronic communication to satisfy their emotional needs tend to develop antisocial behaviours like being introverts.
Consequently, the issue of how to balance the two modes of communication becomes significant. Whereas there is a place and time for both modes of communication, each possesses its merits and demerits.
In contemporary society and across various spheres of interaction and disciplines, digital communication has been established to be convenient. Written digital communication, which includes SMS, email, or other instant messaging platforms provide an instant technique of expression, while simultaneously generating a conversation record for future reference (Baruah, 2012). In other words, digital communication eliminates the need to ask people to repeat messages they had already conveyed. Besides, in-person communication depends on the distance between the parties and scheduling. In the present world’s distributed workplaces, the aspect of team proximity is increasingly becoming more of a luxury. Also, it is often challenging to sustain F2F conversations with colleagues even when people work in the same office, particularly if they are all more invested in participating in lengthy teleconferences or answering emails.
F2F represents a real human interaction, permitting individuals to build synergy collectively, discuss issues thoroughly, and interact in person. While social scientists argue that digital communication can attain identical outcomes, it is not the best substitute for human connection. Individuals need to establish a more evocative connection with others (Uhls & Bos, 2015). Loyalty, trust, and credibility are important aspects of business relationship management and can be fostered better through F2F communication. Additionally, it is possible to infer non-verbal cues in real-life engagement to analyze reactions to opinions and concepts, while communication is more impersonal.
Susceptible to brevity, emails and text messages tend to lack the personal aspect that is necessary for building relationships, and while teleconferences and phone calls are less impersonal, they fail to account for the inference of group dynamics and verbal clues (Baruah, 2012). Well-intentioned messages can be interpreted wrongly and lead to miscommunication or at times, hard feelings.
F2F and electronic communications both possess their merits and demerits. Electronic interactions are perceived as efficient when the requests, tasks, and messages are relayed with clarity and executed as desired (Tilleman, 2018; Turkle, 2016). Contrariwise, unclear multiple message email thread can only serve to frustrate and confuse all parties involved. Similarly, it is evident that email threads spiralling out of control can be better resolved in ten-minute in-person conversations. In contrast with electronic messages, F2F meetings have proven to be productive, collaborative, and energizing when properly facilitated (Uhls & Bos, 2015). However, in the absence of strong leadership, F2F interactions can become repetitive, meander, and lack any results. Many staff members in different organizations have been privy to discussions that went in circles and had no apparent end result or conclusion. Thus, individuals need to endeavour for outcome-inclined dialogue, regardless of whether it is online or in person. For either case, precision is important.
Through teleconferences, WebEx, and video chats, hybrid meetings magnify the capacity of F2F meetings by connecting the parties with distant addressees and offering a virtual prevue into an on-site event. The growth of virtual communications is proof of the rising desire to adopt technology as a channel to human connection and interaction (Turkle, 2016). Hybrid meetings provide benefits like including more speakers, enhancing interaction among the attendees, and reaching a larger audience. Consequently, people need to focus on planning hybrid meetings to make them superior to simple in-person meetings using teleconferencing units.
Here, it is important to ensure that the hybrid meeting is structured to engage individuals in the room equally to the attendees participating virtually. Additionally, it is critical to facilitate the dialogue, implying that the engagement will not be exclusively dominated by particular attendees in the room, which is a common pain aspect for individuals virtually attending from a distance (Uhls & Bos, 2015).
Choice between Face-to-Face Communication and Electronic Communication
In the contemporary age of technically driven business, it becomes easy to downplay the significance of actual, physical human connection for electronic communication. People instant message, email, text, converse using their phones and utilize social media. However, these forms of communication lack the important aspect of real in-person human interaction (Turkle, 2016). Some social scientists have even coined a term for the scenario, “alone together” (Turkle, 2016). Therefore, it is critical to question whether real human connection in communication really matters. Organizational leaders have to ask themselves whether F2F time with their teams makes any difference or if they are willing to receive instructions through phone calls and email. The question has a lot of relevancy in the modern-day. Given that people and organizations exist in the age of digital communication, which assists in many ways, it is important to question whether the trend has crossed its boundaries. Often, employees can feel disconnected and disillusioned because of the lack of personal, human connection, which in turn becomes detrimental to their productivity.
Consequently, the answer to whether F2F is superior to electronic communication or vice versa is relative to people. There might be individuals who are comfortable conversing face-to-face as often as they can, but there is also a percentage of individuals who would benefit from tangible, actual human interaction, particularly when management is concerned (Tilleman, 2018). Hence, the real question would be whether the advantages offered by electronic communication surpass those provided by F2F communication and vice versa. Answering the question helps individuals to make a decision that will ultimately function best for their teams and their organizations.
That said, however, F2F communication fosters more motivation within teams and organizations. Undoubtedly, speaking to individuals in person makes it easier to motivate them (Wood, 2015). While one could write a very long and winded message to employees commending them for what they do at the firm, the much more effective approach would be to go to them, smile, and thank them in person for their input. Definitely, there is no denying that leaders can motivate their employees through electronic communication, but F2F communication possesses greater relevance in this sphere.
Besides, F2F communication makes it easy for individuals to sense what others are really thinking. Whereas people might “read” the other parties’ thoughts through their choice of wording in their texts or emails, the best way to conceive what they are thinking is through speaking to them personally (Tilleman, 2018). In humans, spoken words comprise less than 10 per cent of all communication, with the rest lying in nonverbal cues such as facial cues, voice inflection, and body language (Ashton College, 2019). Hence, it is logical to state that, to really communicate with others on a platform that one will be able to discern the subtleties in the communication not conveyed through actual words, a healthy volume of F2F communication is necessary. Besides, individuals who engage in F2F communication are likely to create a bond between them that will make them more productive. F2F communication fosters camaraderie-ship, a good working relationship, and friendship. More so, teams require a real bond to foster trust and loyalty, as well as build positive synergies at work.
Face-to-face communication is more suitable for teams in organizations than electronic communication because it permits the transmission of more information to others. F2F includes all the signals and non-verbal cues that humans instinctively utilize to express their feelings. Aspects such as voice inflections and even pauses during conversations can express a lot of information. Facial cues such as brows and eye movements are capable of communicating indications that portray pleasure, annoyance, curiosity, anger, and other human emotions. However, it is important to note that electronic communication also has a role in human interactions and can be utilized for urgent matters or when conversing with people separated by a significant distance. For better conveyance of messages, it is important to apply the two modes of communication in a hybrid meeting, which will allow effective engagement regardless of the distance of the attendees.
Ashton College. (2019). The importance of face-to-face communication. Retrieved from https://www.ashtoncollege.ca/the-importance-of-face-to-face-communication/
Baruah, T. (2012). Effectiveness of social media as a tool of communication and its potential for technology-enabled connections: A micro-level study. International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications, 2(5), 1-10.
Tilleman, T. (2018). Face-to-face and electronic communications in maintaining social networks: the influence of geographical and relational distance and information content. New Media & Society, 12(6), 965–983.
Turkle, S. (2016). Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. New York: ReadHowYouWant.com.
Uhls, Y., & Bos, N. (2015). Anger and happiness in virtual teams: Emotional influences of text and behaviour on others affect in the absence of non-verbal cues. Organizational Behavior and Human Processes 116(1), 2-16.
Wood, J. T. (2015). Interpersonal communication: Everyday encounters. New York: Cengage Learning.