A Face-to-Face Request is 34 Times More Successful Than an Email
With the internet and advances in communication technology today, we have endless options when it comes to communication – Slack, Facetime, Skype, and so on.
Despite all these options, one of the most commonly used means of communication is the good, old email.
Despite the proliferation of new communication technologies, email still remains the main communication tool for about 95% of businesses, according to a study by the EmployeeApp and the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).
Another survey also shows that 86% of business professionals prefer business communication to be done via email, which is more than those who prefer face to face communication.
Given the inclination of most millennials to opt for virtual communication mediums compared to face to face interactions, it is not surprising that majority of the workforce today prefers email over face to face interaction for business communication.
But does this mean that email is a more effective means of communication compared to face to face communication?
For a minute, I want you to imagine that you have been tasked with getting people to make donations to charity of your choice. Your aim is to get as many people as possible to make the donations.
You have two options here: you can either send out emails to the people in your contact list, or you can ask the people you meet in person to donate.
Which one of the two methods would you opt for, and which one do you think would lead to the best results?
I am willing to bet that most of you would opt for email over asking the people you meet in person. After all, with one click, you can send out an email to the 300 hundred people in your contact list asking them to make donations to the charity.
On the other hand, you will be lucky to talk to more than 20 people in a day.
Surely, getting the message to 300 people via email will lead to better results than talking face to face with less than 20 people, right?
While email gives you far greater reach than asking people face to face, it is not as effective as talking to people in person. In other words, you are likely to convince more people to make the donations by talking to 20 people in person compared to sending out an email to 300 people.
Researchers Mahdi Roghanizad from the University of Waterloo and Vanessa Bohns from Cornell University wanted to find out whether email is more persuasive than face to face communication, so they carried out a research whose results they published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
From their research, Mahdi and Vanessa found out that people are more likely to over-estimate how persuasive they are in emails and other text-based methods of communication, and underestimate how persuasive they are in face to face communication.
In one of the studies they carried out, the two researchers required 45 participants to reach out to 10 strangers each (a total of 450 strangers) and ask them to take part in a brief survey.
All the 45 participants were given the exact same script to use when asking the strangers to take part in the survey. However, there was a small difference.
Half of the participants were asked to make the request in person, while the other half were asked to make their request over email.
The researchers found that the strangers that were asked to take part in the survey through a face to face interaction were more likely to agree compared to those who were asked over email.
Before reaching out to the strangers, the 45 participants had been asked to predict how many of the 10 strangers they reached out to would agree to take part in the survey. The participants who were asked to make the requests in person predicted on average that 5 out of the 10 strangers would agree to take part in the survey.
Participants who were asked to make their requests via email, on the other hand, predicted that on average, 5.5 out of the 10 strangers would agree to take part in the survey. In other words, those making the requests via email were slightly more confident than those making the requests face to face.
However, the results were very different from the predictions. While the two groups were almost equally confident about the efficiency of their requests, the requests made face to face were 34 times more effective than the requests made via email.
The results clearly show that people think email is as effective as face to face communication, when in reality, it is not. So, why this difference?
According to the researchers, those who sent the requests via email had a lot of confidence in their requests because they were aware of the legitimacy and trustworthiness of what they were asking the strangers to do, which in this case is taking part in a survey.
However, the strangers did not share this awareness. To the strangers on the receiving end, they were receiving unexpected emails from strangers asking them to click on a link.
This is highly suspicious behavior, which is why a lot of the email recipients ignored the requests.
Unfortunately, the researchers did not carry out another survey to find out how effective the email requests would have been if they had been sent to people who were acquainted with the participants, rather than complete strangers.
It is possible that sending the email requests to acquaintances rather than strangers would have led to better results.
WHY FACE TO FACE COMMUNICATION IS MORE SUCCESSFUL THAN EMAIL
Despite having missed a chance to make their research results even more objective, it is still clear that face to face communication is more effective compared to email or other text-based methods of communication.
There are a number of factors that make face to face communication more persuasive and effective compared to email. These include:
There is more to communication than just the words we say. How we say the words, our body posture as we communicate, the gestures that we use, and the facial expressions that accompany the words all play a role in getting the message across.
Actually, these nonverbal cues contribute to about 93% of communication effectiveness.
In an email, you can only communicate your message using words. You cannot show your facial expressions, use gestures, show body language, use different tones, and so on. Someone reading your email cannot correctly interpret your emotions in the email.
This does not only apply to strangers. Studies show that even your closest friends will have trouble interpreting your emotions through email. In other words, 93% of the message you are trying to communicate gets lost in emails.
The ability to observe each other’s body language and non-verbal cues gives face to face communication a great edge over email conversation.
As you talk to the other person, you get a live, real-time feedback of their reaction to your message. If something seems to be unclear to the person, you will probably see a raised brow, which is a cue to you to clarify your message further.
If the person you are talking to doesn’t believe what you are saying or doesn’t trust you, you can see this immediately and make adjustments to what you are saying.
With your own non-verbal cues, you can communicate trust, care, and so on.
This makes face to face communication highly effective and gives it a huge advantage over email, since none of this is possible when you’re communicating via email.
Non-verbal cues in face to face communication also reduce the chances of your message being misread, misperceived, or misunderstood.
For instance, have you ever sent a joke to someone over email but then had the recipient misunderstand the joke because they couldn’t read the sarcasm in the email, despite using an emoji to make it clear that you are joking?
Having the message misread or misunderstood is very common with email.
With face to face communication, the use of body language, changes in tone, facial expressions, and gestures greatly minimizes the risk of miscommunication and makes sure that your message gets perceived as you intended.
Great for Building Relationships
The connections and relationships we have with other people play a very significant role in our ability to persuade others.
For instance, if you have a good relationship with your boss, it is much easier to convince them to give you a raise or assign you that coveted project.
When you communicate via email, the words are matter-of-factly and straight to the point, and there’s no time to get to know more about each other, engage in small talk, or show your personality, all of which are essential to building authentic and meaningful relationships.
Face to face communication provides you with endless opportunities to build more authentic and trustworthy relationships.
With face to face communication, you can engage in some chitchat before getting down to business, you get to learn about the other person’s personality, you can share jokes, and so on.
Such a kind of engagement provides a feel of friendliness, which enhances the relationships between you and the other person and builds trust.
Of course, the more of a friendly and trusting relationship you have with the other person, the more likely they are to agree to the requests you make of them.
When you communicate to someone over email, you have no way of determining how interested or attentive they are to what you are talking about.
The other person is probably reading your email while talking on the phone or chatting with a friend in the office, meaning they are not paying attention to what you are saying in the email.
This increases the chances that they might miss something or misinterpret/misunderstand something in the email.
With face to face communication, you can easily tell how attentive someone is to what you are saying. Someone is more likely to be more attentive when you are talking to them in person.
Even if they are disengaged, you will notice it immediately and have a variety of options at your disposal to make them more attentive.
The higher level of attentiveness and engagement when talking face to face means that this form of communication is more likely to be effective compared to email communication.
The Power of Human Touch
Face to face communication provides something that is impossible to replicate over email, or any other electronic means of communication – human touch.
The touch of another human is very important.
This is something we are hard wired to interpret, according to an article by Psychology Today.
The touch of another person leads to an enhanced feeling of bonding and cooperation.
For instance, shaking another person’s hand stimulates the nucleus accumbens, which is the brain’s reward center, and makes people feel more cooperative.
Various studies show that even seemingly insignificant touches can have a huge impact on human interactions.
For instance, waitresses who touch their guests usually receive bigger tips, people who are touched by a store greeter tend to spend more in the store, and even strangers are more likely to offer help if the request for help is accompanied by a touch.
This gives face to face communication a huge advantage over email, since human touch is something that it impossible to achieve when using email.
Face to face communication is also more likely to drive participation compared to email communication. Some theories say that this can be attributed to mimicry and mirroring.
For instance, if you are in the same room with a colleague and you ask them to help you with something, say looking for some files in the filing cabinet, they are more likely to help, rather than simply sitting there doing nothing.
However, if they were seated in another room doing nothing, and you sent them an email asking them to come and help you, there is a higher chance that they would ignore your email.
The propensity for face to face communication to drive participation could also be due to the fact it is harder (and rude) to ignore someone in person.
For instance, if you sent your colleague an email asking them to come and help with something, you wouldn’t know for sure if they have read your email, or if they are busy doing something else.
In other words, they can ignore you without you being aware that they are ignoring you.
With face to face communication, however, the other person has no room to ignore your request without your awareness, which makes them more likely to cooperate if they are in a position to help.
Speaking face to face is a lot more efficient than sending an email, at least in some instances.
For instance, if you are discussing a complex matter, you could easily spend the whole day sending emails back and forth and clarifying matters that might have been misunderstood or misinterpreted.
With a face to face conversation, something that would have taken a whole day of back and forth emails can quickly be hashed out within a few minutes.
In addition, it is much easier to brainstorm and find solutions to multiple problems when speaking in person compared to emailing.
Face to face communication also leads to faster decision making for projects that are time sensitive.
Face to Face Conversations Convey Importance
Imagine you have some very important news you need to pass to someone.
For instance, let’s say you need to communicate to one of your direct reports that they have been promoted and are being transferred to head a newly opened branch.
Would you rather communicate this news in person or via email? I hope you said in person.
Nothing conveys importance like a face to face conversation.
Communicating with someone face to face shows the other person that the conversation is an important one and that you value them enough that you made the time to meet with them personally.
It shows that you want to make sure that they get the message clearly, and that you also want to listen to them and make sure what they have to say gets heard.
Face to Face Conversations are More Motivating
It is a lot easier to motivate someone when having a face to face conversation with them compared to an email conversation.
Sure, you could compose a long winded email telling your employees how much you value them, and selling the vision of the organization to them.
However, there is no way this is going to be more motivating compared to you standing in person right in front of them, smiling at them, telling them how much you value them, and how they are the key to achieving the organization’s mission and vision.
When you are doing it in person, they can see your energy and your enthusiasm, and this is going to rub off on them. An email message can never beat this.
It is Easier to Sell Yourself In Person
Selling yourself and convincing people over email is quite a difficult task.
Someone might open the email and leave it unread, something might distract them and cause them to forget about the email, they might simply be skimming through your words without paying any special attention to what you are saying, or perhaps your energy and charisma might not shine through the email.
When you are having a conversation with someone in person, on the other hand, you can easily engage with the person you are talking to, see how they are responding to your message, and quickly change tact to make sure your message gets home. If they have doubts about what you are saying, you can easily allay the fears and persuade them.
Basically, it is a lot easier to get people to see things from your point of view when you are speaking to them in person, compared to when they are reading a block of text you wrote.
Face to Face Conversations Foster Engagement and Innovation
Face to face conversations are better suited for engagement and innovation compared to email conversations.
With a face to face conversation, people are more likely to share spur of moment ideas, share their opinions, suggest different approaches and perspectives, and so on. You can also get immediate feedback from the other person.
This creates an opportunity for better engagement and innovation, which does not only help the company grow, but also contributes to employee growth and employee satisfaction.
Achieving such a level of engagement and fostering innovation is almost impossible when communication is done primarily via email.
In a world that is dominated by a plethora of virtual communication technologies, a lot of people do not think that face to face communication is important any more.
What they do not realize is that while text-based means of communication might be more convenient, they are not as effective or successful as face to face communication, and they could be losing opportunities because of this.
If you work in an office where email (and other text based means of communication) are the preferred mode of communication, it might be time to start giving greater priority to face to face communication.
Like we saw from the research by Mahdi and Vanessa, you could be overestimating the effectiveness and success of your email communication when in reality, you are actually opting for an inferior means of communicating and influencing others.
Whether you want to pass some crucial information to your team, give an update to your boss, or meet up with a prospective client, start scheduling physical, face to face meetings rather than sending out emails.
Not only will this help you build better relationships with the people you are interacting with, it will also make it easier for you to convince and persuade them to view things from your perspective.
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