In a world driven by technology, the face-to-face meeting has taken a back seat.
I just returned from visiting a favorite local restaurant. Looking around, I saw almost 80% of the customers engaging with some type of device. If they weren’t tapping on a laptop, they were staring at their mobile phone’s screen. And they were alone.
Business communication is primarily conducted through email. Introductions through LinkedIn start and sometimes end in someone’s inbox, without even one phone call.
And face-to-face meetings get pushed to the back burner because people don’t think they have time to meet with a person.
However, I have a different view. I think you should have face-to-face meetings as much as possible. You’ll certainly stand out because so many have discarded them.
But the real reason you want to still have face-to-face meetings is that you will have a better conversation.
Most people realize that much of our communication is non-verbal. The often-quoted statistic about communication being over 90% non-verbal is contextual, but overall has merit. Much of what we understand during a conversation depends on non-verbal cues such as tone of voice and body language.
This is how we really connect with one another. When we’re in each other’s presence, expressing our ideas.
And, when we can look someone in the eye.
“Look at my eyes…”
I was standing in the kitchen as a rambunctious ten-year old, sharing another (in my mind) spellbinding story with my father.
My arms opened wide as I moved them up and down to emphasize a particular point. My torso bent forward and then snapped back as I mimicked a fellow student’s movements.
It usually didn’t take long for my father to finally say, “Mary. I want you to sit down and tell me. Get to the point. I also want you to look at my eyes when you talk to me. People won’t take you seriously until you look them in the eye.”
This scenario played out for years. Years.
It took my father many hours of telling me to look him in the eye until finally, it became second nature. But I am so grateful he instilled this very important lesson in me.
As I grew older, I would notice how many people had a difficult time looking me straight in the eye as they spoke. Some would stare off into the distance as they conversed. Others would look up at the ceiling or at the floor as they shared with me their thoughts.
Most of the time when this would happen, I felt minimized. Unimportant.
The worst would be when I was at a social gathering and whomever I was talking to at the moment would scan their eyes across the room to see who else was there. I imagined that if they saw someone they wanted to really talk to, I’d be dropped like a hot potato.
No one wants to feel like a leftover piece of turkey a week after Thanksgiving.
Viewing a map
When you look someone in the eye, it’s like viewing a map and reaching your destination. Two things happen.
First, your communication partner will be able to see how much you believe in what you are saying. They’ll be able to see the passion, the excitement, or the concern you have once they are looking you straight in the eye.
Secondly, (and I believe more importantly) you will be able to see if they understand you. By looking them straight in the eye, you’ll be able to gauge if they are following your message or if they’re drifting off to sleep. It’s very important to read the cues of your partner.
This can be seen both verbally and non-verbally. Some say you can’t look someone in the eye and lie to another. That’s not altogether true. Pathological liars have no problem doing this.
I would say it’s more difficult to look someone in the eye to tell them something difficult to hear. That is when you know you have a real friend, when she or he can look you in the eye and tell you the truth.
Do you know how to tell if someone is really smiling at you? Do you know where to look?
It’s not in the mouth, but in the eyes.
A person who is truly smiling will have small crinkles around their eyes. Their eyes will slightly squint as they send a beaming smile your way. Fake smiles are all mouth, no eyes.
I’ve had a few of those sent my way and it chills my heart, not warms it. Let your true smile shine forth and be genuinely glad to meet people. They’ll understand it to be an authentic welcome into your world.
Keith Ferrazzi in his book, Never Eat Alone, said he learned that real networking was about finding ways to make other people more successful. Meeting people for lunch, for instance, was one of the ways he networked. It was in meeting people face-to-face that he was able to understand what they needed to succeed and also find a way to help them. In the process, he often received an important introduction or piece of information that helped him achieve his goals.
I know many professionals reject requests for coffee or lunch so a person can “pick their brain.” I understand time is money and no one wants to give a free consultation. However, I think there are times when such a session can be beneficial. If it’s with a person who works in your industry already or is considered a power networker, I’d say take the meeting. You never know where it may lead. Introductions can come from all angles.
Ferrazzi’s book, by the way, just was re-released in a revised and expanded edition. It’s a good example of what can happen when you decide to meet more people in person rather than sending an email.
Think about it. When you meet someone in person, they make an impression and so do you. You’ll stand out from the dozens of people your contact communicated with only via email. Meeting face-to-face is one of the best ways to connect and be remembered.