Voice to Voice versus, Face to Face: Making Sure Your Messages Are Understood

Chris Tjotjos, VP, Cisco Solutions Practice, Black Box Network Services

Chris Tjotjos, VP, Cisco Solutions Practice, Black Box Network Services

With so many ways to communicate and so many people to reach-from millennial to senior citizens and everyone in between – it is often difficult to determine which mode of communication we should use to send our messages.

The communications industry experienced a huge transformation since the tried and true telephone first allowed us to communicate in real time. After the telephone, came the fax machine, which was quickly displaced by email. From there, voice communications went through a massive revolution with the advent of cellular technology. Our bondage to a tethered landline was finally broken and now we could communicate on the go, almost anywhere. It didn’t matter that the call was full of static and choppy words, we were free to multitask and move about – a clear indicator of what was to come.

"The next big development in communication would be the ultimate in speed, ease, and flexibility – the Text"

The cell phone began a quick ascent as the number one way to get a hold of someone. People would call someone’s cell phone even before trying their home or business line even though the quality was poorer than the first two choices. The next big development that would come along would be the ultimate in speed, ease, and flexibility – the Text. The communications medium would be transformed once again. Texting would allow us to keep our conversations going–while sitting in seminars, conference rooms, and rush hour traffic. Messages were received quickly and responded immediately. Texting even infiltrated parent child communications–as parents finally had a way to reach their kids–anytime, anywhere.

However, through all of these evolutions of technology, one thing has been lost is face-to-face interaction. Can these mediums convey your answers, opinions, and thoughts accurately? Are you able to tell the whole story in a few lines of a text? Can your CEO convey his vision and goals well enough through a phone call? Can your customers grasp your commitment to them with a quick thank you email?

The risk for misinterpretation is great. In addition, for me, as a business leader, I see it as a risk to our success.

These communication modes have created an expectation of real time delivery and response. Business today must execute quickly and operate efficiently, if they are to stay ahead of their competition. Nevertheless, CIOs, and business leaders, must also understand the criticality of their teams’ interactions–for messages coming down from leadership, ideas and innovations coming upstream for consideration, and all the day-to-day peer conversations that keep our companies running.

Let’s face it, we are inundated with messages, and a significant portion of our day is spent weeding out and keeping up. When you get a phone call from someone, your attention level is automatically set based on your interest level on the topic of discussion. Even if your interest is high, if the call goes too long, Continuous Partial Attention (CPA) sets in and you start multitasking. You might start reorganizing your inbox, return to a project that has been weighing on your mind, or worst of all, reading and responding to e-mails. Now I’m not being fair to either the person on the phone or the recipient of my e-mail as I’ve not concentrated on either one properly. Competition for attention is fierce.

Some messages require complete immersion of voice audio, visual delivery, and mental attention. You need to hear it and you need to see it. My little video camera on my computer and the video option in my smartphone has fundamentally changed the way I communicate with my team and my clients.

For my team, we have implemented the use of camera phones for 100 percent of virtual meetings. Of course, people don’t always want to use them. If I know they have a video option, I insist they turn it on or I ask them to call back when they are ready to use it. In my experience, calls run faster and the collaboration is more effective when we can see and hear each other. It prevents multitasking and allows for true engagement, which makes everything run clearer and faster. Gone are the days of participants waiting for answers while the other person is half-listening and therefore not able to provide proper guidance. In addition, the video communicates the other critical elements of the message by conveying facial and body expressions when we are talking. So much of that is lost when we merely talk on the phone, especially those conference phones that we huddle over so often in meeting rooms. Who knows what is really happening on the other side when we are simply talking on a microphone and cannot see the reaction of the visual response on the other side? As a leader, I need authentic feedback and often I can get it just from watching my teams’ reaction on video!

I’ve been in so many companies that continue to use the desk conference phone even while their video system is sitting dark right there in the room. So my advice is this. Turn that system on. Start using video for your calls. Invest in personal cameras if you don’t already have them. Set the example and watch the transformation.

Technology at its best- improving the way people communicate and business operate. When its business that needs to get done, video communications gets it done for me.

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