Friday, January 06, 2006

Face to Face vs Phone

It seems to me sometimes that we are losing the ability to meet face to face effectively and this worries me. Many meetings (many organized by me) go ahead without agenda's, go unrecorded and have unspecified outcomes. The basic skills set of agreeing and issuing an agenda, sticking to that agenda throughout the meeting, assigning actions 'only' to those in attendance, and minuting the meeting seem to be hard to find, but that is not really the worst of it.
For I am beginning to wonder if in the deluge of technology options available to us, we are fundamentally losing the ability to actually communicate effectively.

We shift vast amounts of data between ever more remote locations - yet lose by the day the ability to read a person, or measure the political temprature in the room.

For example, I keenly observe body and verbal language cues in meetings. I look to see who is engaged, who is disengaged, who has lost the plot and who is clearly not happy etc. I have always done this and consider it a basic skill of a consultant. I don't always read things correctly, but my intent in attempting to do so is simple, to move the meeting along to a successful and mutually beneficial closure.

It is also much more difficult to lie in a face to face situation - and when doubt, uncertainty or BS creep into the situation, if one is watching for such things, it is noticable long before anyone specifically says something. Conversely an email coversation can go on a long time, before a miscommunication is detected.

There is some truth to the stereotype that Valley Geeks have poor social skills - but social skills can be learned and whether we realize it or not, geek or sophisticate alike communicate much more by non verbal mechanisms than we tend to acknowledge.

So where is this all leading? Well I am (as usual) not sure, other than to caution against the unfettered use of email and teleconferences as a means of business relationship interactions.

Recently I have had that sense of Deja Vu all over again - long and fruitful email discussions leading ultimately nowhere (or at least not to a place I want to be in) and impromtu face to face meetings delivering far more than I ever expected them to.

Management consultants in the tech sector have an important role to play - though often ridiculed in the likes of Dilbert cartoons. Beyond the very specific project related skills sets we bring, we also at least have the chance to ensure human relationships and interactions develop and are nurtured - with creative and new concepts and methods coming out of them. We are catalysts, in that in the bigger scheme of things we are only a tiny part of the equation, but when succesfully employed we bring about major change. By neccessity we all tend to have global practices, and need to spend a great deal of our time on email and phone, but the skill is in knowing when to make the extra effort to sit down in person. And the skill to really 'know' when is being lost.

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