Look at pretty well any survey of CIOs in the last few years and high on the list of ‘most important skills for a CIO’ is ‘communication’. Of course it is; not just for CIOs but for any executive.
Now communication can mean lots of things, and today it includes a whole range of media -- telephone, teleconference, e-mail, and a range of social media. They all have their place, and used properly, they can contribute to the efficiency and effectiveness of an organization. But barring geographical or other logistical barriers, it often makes more sense to meet in person.
While it is quicker and easier to fire off an e-mail or instant message, or even to pick up the phone and use the office intercom to speak with a colleague two doors away, face-to-face, human to human, real live discussion is generally more effective and has benefits that go beyond the immediate
There’s a richness in the communication that takes place between people who are in the same room and able to use all the senses to send and interpret the messages. The body language, the facial expressions and a host of non-verbal signals such as smiling, frowning, nodding, folded arms contribute to our understanding of what message is really being conveyed, which may differ from the spoken words.
But the biggest benefit of meeting face-to-face is that it’s personal. Having a personal connection is a way to build trust. Trust reduces the possibility of misinterpretation and misunderstanding, and it makes future communication in any form more effective.
I try to spend a little regular face time with everyone in my circle of influence. As a manager, I want my direct reports to know me from the personal interactions we have and not just from written edicts or exclusively formal business exchanges such as quarterly or annual reviews. I’m not specifically looking to be liked -- though I don’t object to that -- rather, I want to be known for who I am and not for some persona built from rumour and hearsay.
I use LinkedIn extensively and find it’s a useful source of insights and support as well as a way to extend my professional network. But the people I’ve met in person invariably accept or initiate connection requests more readily than those I introduce myself to online. And those in my network with whom I’ve had some personal interaction are the ones most likely to respond to me if I request information or help, and are more likely to reach out to me for assistance.
Think about your own experience attending conferences, workshops or other gatherings. For me, the in-person conversations I’ve had there have often led to lasting professional relationships. In fact, my decision to attend a particular event is based as much on the expected attendee profile as on the topic or speakers. The networking is often a large part of the value.
The Holy Grail for many of the vendors who sponsor and attend events is the chance to meet face-to-face with prospects who are notoriously difficult to access. The personal contact, the chance to speak while looking each other in the eye often opens the door to future one-on-one conversations that endless phone calls have failed to do.
It would be foolish to dismiss the remarkable opportunities that technology has enabled for communication across distances, with both broad and narrowly-targeted communities and individuals, and with rich media that can illustrate and share ideas through sound and vision. Or the efficiencies introduced by e-mail, instant messaging and a host of mobile technologies. I’m sure my professional and personal life would be poorer without them.
But the symbolism of the handshake is not yet entirely lost and, in my opinion, personal contact still trumps all other forms of communication if the end objective requires anything more than the most rudimentary of relationships.
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