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The power of face-to-face conversations

I’m sure you remember. Your uncle would show up at your house unannounced from time to time, just to chat about his day for a while. Your classmates would stop by to pick you up, with no idea whether or not you’d be home. Or you’d casually call your best friend’s land line and could instantly recognize the voices of everyone in their family.

How long has it been since you’ve experienced one of these situations? Even if you’re young enough, you still might have no idea what we’re talking about.

The digital revolution has obviously brought us countless devices that make our lives easier, more efficient and more convenient. But in terms of human relationships and conversations, it has also imposed some very high barriers that never existed before. We live in a paradoxical world: although we are more connected than ever, the act of entering an office, knocking on someone’s door without warning, or even an unannounced phone call can often be considered an intrusion or a show of disrespect.

Outlook, Gmail, Skype, Slack, Zoom, Teams, WhatsApp and Instagram bring us unquestionable advantages. But their boom—which has catapulted exponentially during the pandemic—is also causing us to impose a set of digital boundaries that separate us from full experience and from the results that can be achieved by talking directly with another human being.

7 benefits you can only get by talking to your teams in person

In the world of business, and especially as a leader, shying away from conversations that could be face to face and retreating into written messages is as tempting as it is risky. However, we find ourselves doing so more and more. Consider: How many close conversations have you had with your team members in person in the last month?

Laziness and fear of awkward situations compel us to hide behind the keyboard and the screen when we communicate, but we are losing very valuable elements along the way: time in unending email chains, attention span, space for deeper relationships, ability to understand and share emotions, and more. Plus, given the difficulty of conveying subtleties in tone when we write, we often fall in the trap of generating unnecessary tension and plenty of misunderstandings, which gradually drain our energy and deteriorate our relationships. Consider again: How many poisonous email exchanges are in your inbox right now?

Leading isn’t about sending orders, angry complaints or reports over email, but rather talking with people to help push projects forward. If you want to be a more responsible leader, perhaps the next time you want to communicate something, you’ll simply stand up and go see that person.

1. Fewer misunderstandings

Did you know that 25% of the emojis we send are interpreted by the recipient to have the opposite meaning than we intended? Gestures, tone of voice and the look on our face all help convey what we want to say and how we want to say it with a precision that’s not possible in written language. We express and perceive feelings more clearly and that allows for mutual empathy, avoiding many unnecessary conflicts caused by poor communication.

2. Greater effectiveness and persuasion

We often think that an email has the same impact as asking for something in person, but actually face-to-face communication is 34 times more successful, because persuasion has much more to do with emotions than with reason. So it’s not enough to write a clear and direct message; what makes a message credible is what we convey through our body language.

3. Stronger bonds

Close and frequent contact generates trust and security between people, and this is true in the work environment as well. Being in another person’s physical presence makes it much easier to find common ground, and many conversations lead to memorable moments that strengthen the relationship. Plus, physical proximity activates mechanisms in our body that reduce stress and relax us.

4. Simpler conversations

When we get immediate responses accompanied by gestures and body language, right away we can see how the other person feels, anticipate what’s going to happen and adapt our tone as we go. This is very helpful in reaching agreements. Plus, when it comes to setting objectives, we usually negotiate them more in person. We adopt them as our own and coordinate better to achieve them.

5. Better attention, concentration and cooperation

How many times a week do you try to multitask during online meetings? When we speak face to face, it’s almost impossible to be doing something else at the same time. Instead we tend to concentrate more on the present, get involved and practice active listening, which is essential for any quality conversation.

6. Deeper learning

Learning at the conceptual level means understanding a new idea like “creativity” or “diversity”. But deep learning involves living those concepts, discussing them and applying them to different contexts in our daily lives. That’s why this type of learning only happens when we experience the ideas alongside other people, as happens in all IESE programs.

7. More communicative and social skills

Speaking in public, conveying emotions, managing uncertainty, putting ourselves in other people’s shoes, working on affective relationships and self-esteem are all things that improve when we are in contact with others, not behind a screen. Don’t forget that we’re social animals after all.

Conversaciones difíciles

Keys to having a difficult conversation

We don’t like them, they’re awkward and they make us nervous. But as much as we try to avoid them, sooner or later we stumble into them anyway. Difficult conversations—those that require emotional or intellectual effort and where there are real stakes—are not only part of life, but can also be quite valuable.

On the one hand, they help us know and respect ourselves more: by understanding what we want, what we don’t, why and where our limits are. On the other hand, they help us get to know and respect the other person better. If you think about it, every healthy and longstanding relationship is built on the stepping stones of difficult conversations surmounted to solve problems for the good of the relationship.

When you have to face your next difficult conversation and you feel your legs trembling and your voice wavering, these tips can be useful to ease the tension and reach a common goal:

1. Prepare what you’re going to say

Though it may seem excessive, preparing a script and practicing what we want to say can give us lots of confidence ahead of the conversation and will help us be more clear and concise without getting sidetracked. It’s also advisable to think about what we want to achieve, or in other words, whether the main goal is simply to solve the problem, to work on the relationship, or both.

2. Think back to how you’ve acted in the past

We all remember moments when we wish we’d done better. Stop blaming yourself, but use that energy to think about what you said and what tone you used in that conversation that ended so badly. Think about how you would have like to have acted and put it into practice next time. It’s never too late.

3. Don’t rush it

Even if your priority is to solve the problem, jumping the gun won’t get you anywhere. Find the right time and place and make sure both people are relaxed and comfortable. When the conversation begins, try to be pleasant and constructive without launching right into the conflictive situation too quickly.

4. Listen. No, really listen

If you’re only focused on rattling out everything you want to say, that’s not a conversation. To create something meaningful, it’s essential that you pay attention and show the other person that you’re interested: don’t interrupt, don’t abruptly change the subject, don’t prejudge and don’t make assumptions without enough information. Ask the other person about their opinion, what they want and what they expect. Perhaps what you were so worried about won’t turn out to be as serious as you imagined.

5. Think about how you say things

Nerves and unchecked emotions can play dirty tricks on us. This tends to happen when things don’t go as we expected, but if we wallow there it’ll be hard to get anything valuable out of the conversation. Instead of giving orders, make requests or suggestions. Instead of complaining, be assertive and adopt a firm stance without being aggressive. And if they ask for you opinion, be empathetic and choose your words carefully.

6. Don’t take it personally

Remember that the final goal of a difficult conversation isn’t to be right, or to impose your opinion. It’s more about reaching a solution that’s as beneficial as possible for everyone involved. Focus, don’t get tied up in the blame game, be humble and stay open to the possibility that you’re wrong. The best thing that can come of it is to discover a scenario you like but that you had never considered.


Also, if you want to learn how to give and receive feedback, don’t miss this article.

In IESE’s Executive Education programs, you’ll learn to lead through conversations that are honest, human and illuminating.

Are you a true talking manager?

In his book The Talking Manager: Leading people through conversations, author Álvaro González-Alorda (PDD ‘06) claims that your level of leadership depends on the quality of your conversations. These are some of the attitudes a true talking manager should have:

• Know your coworkers well and have affection for them.
• Spend time talking with the people on your team, both in formal and informal contexts.
• Don’t improvise important conversations.
• Be empathetic and detect the other person’s mood.
• Have more questions than answers.
• Be prudent in your statements and know how to say “I don’t know”.
• Don’t immediately speak out on every controversy.
• Don’t try to have your own way, but rather “have our own way.”
• Speak frankly and make eye contact.

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