The Personal Touch

I’ve just got back into the office after an exciting awards ceremony that I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to disclose further information about until tomorrow – but suffice to say it’s very positive for the charity I work for and will hopefully provide us with leverage to a higher platform of media awareness.

It’s exhausting spending hours waxing lyrical about what your organisation does, but it’s also immensely satisfying, and it’s reminded me of the importance of establishing face to face contact with people instead of always relying on email introductions and social media to do the job. No form of online contact can ever match the effectiveness of face to face interaction, but sadly in our ever-more isolating technological world we are all too often resorting to anything but that mode of communication.

Much as I hate to wax lyrical about ‘when I was young’ (not least because it makes me feel, at the age of 32, positively ancient), there is a hugely notable difference between what it was like to be a teenager then and what it’s like now. I remember signing up to rudimentary chat rooms and carrying around a mobile phone the size of a brick solely to put my mother’s mind at rest, but back then Facebook was but a seed germinating in Mark Zuckerberg’s brilliant mind, and the concept of instant messaging my friends instead of calling their family homes to organise meeting up under Carfax Tower in Oxford on a Saturday afternoon was unthinkable.

Times have changed so much since my childhood and society is, as it always does, adapting. On the whole I am an advocate of social media (I use it enough in my personal life, how could I not be?), but today has reinforced the importance of occasionally reverting to more old fashioned methods. Embracing change is all well and good, but sometimes the old ways really are the best.

Face to face

I’m writing this on the return train journey from Manchester, where I’ve spent the day meeting all my colleagues in our North West office. It’s got me thinking about the importance of face to face engagement, not just in a work context but also with friends, family and acquaintances.

As an example, how many times have you received an email from a colleague or been called by your mobile phone provider and rolled your eyes, judging their motives and pre-empting their reactions before you’ve even given them a chance to demonstrate them? If that same interaction had taken place in person, how different might it have been?

I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to firing off emails to colleagues or texts to friends when I know I should have spoken to them in the flesh. The ridiculous thing is that it’s usually those texts and emails that need a personal delivery more than most. So whilst in the moment of deliberation and eventual action you think you’re saving yourself any trouble, the likelihood is you’re just storing it up for later.

Why are we so bad at communicating with one another face to face? The dawn of the email and smartphone age has made it easier for us to hide behind our screens, but is there a deeper motivation for our reluctance to engage with our fellow men and women? I know my dislike of confrontation is largely responsible for my shirking ‘real’ contact in favour of the electronic kind, for example, but I do wonder whether we as a species are perhaps simply becoming less inclined to be social, unless it’s a situation where we feel entirely comfortable and in control?

Not all of us are computer game addicts who hole themselves up for 18 hours a day playing Call of Duty, but I’d bet despite having hundreds of Facebook “friends” most my generation can count on one hand the number of people they see regularly in the flesh. We like to seem popular, and yet when it comes down to it we shun the majority of opportunities to really connect.

At work this reluctance can have very negative outcomes – if, for example, a colleague misinterprets an email you’ve sent in the wrong way, gets up in arms about it and shares it with other colleagues who then take his or her side it can backfire badly and damage your reputation.

The personal touch can go a long way – in today’s example, helping to bridge the gap between two geographically distant offices. We covered more ground sitting around a table together than we could have done in a month over email, and I left feeling I’d got a good understanding of everyone’s working styles and personalities – something you couldn’t hope to do on a phone call.

So if you identify with any of the above, next time you go to type an email why not stop and consider whether a phone call or face to face netting might be a more appropriate medium for sharing the information? You might just find the personal touch is more rewarding than you expected.

Writing this reminded me of a recent dinner party during which we played the game where you write a phrase on a piece of paper for the person to your left to slip unnoticed into conversation. If you haven’t tried it I’d recommend it!