Face-to-case Meetings, an excerpt from Keilhauer's HeadsUp booklet (request yours!)
Phil Knight, founder of Nike, is notoriously private, but he doesn’t hide behind email and phone calls – many of his most striking business accomplishments came during face-to-face meetings.
He invented his company on the spot during a meeting where he convinced a Japanese manufacturer to let him sell his shoes stateside.1
Knight’s appearances at Nike’s annual meetings have been noted for his “approachable body language” while he inspires employees and investors.2
Tennis legend Andre Agassi was coaxed back to beinga Nike spokesman after he told Knight he wanted to have lunch and “look you in the eye.”3
Between Twitter and texts, Skype and Slack, the idea of meeting face-to-face can seem like a waste oftime and money. However, a growing body of scientificresearch supports Knight’s approach. Studies indicate that meeting face-to-face is a more effective way to build trust and sell your products and ideas than using electronic communications.
What’s truly surprising, though, is the ways in which face-to-face meetings impact people: these encounters actually stimulate areas of the brain that generate more ideas and a higher level of creativity. So if your business hinges on creative expression, you might think about putting away your phone, logging off your screen, and inviting people to come in for a face-to-face visit.
As electronic communications become more common, the drawbacks of virtual interactions have become more noticeable. More than half of executives admit they become distracted during digital meetings, according to a Forbes survey.4 On phone and video conferences, people surf the web, check their emails,browse other files and only give a part of their attentionto the matter at hand.
This disengagement leads to distressing conse- quences. In a global survey of 2,000 business people, nearly half said they’ve lost a contract or client due toinsufficient face-to-face meetings.5
On the flip side, 81% said face-to-face meetings allow them to build stronger relationships, providing asignificant advantage over virtual get-togethers.
One reason for the benefits of face-to-face probablywon’t surprise you: A study in the prestigious journalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processesfound that “lean communications” (like email and video conferencing) strip away body language and eye contact that cause people to develop trust in one another.6
Researcher Gregory Northcraft believes that virtualmeetings sacrifice the quality of relationships in theinterest of saving time. “And quality of relationships matters,” he says. “Face-to-face, people just have moreconfidence that others will do what they say they’ll do.”
This is borne out in the real world. In an online forum, a businesswoman mentioned that the many virtual meetings her team held did little to connect her to her colleagues. But once she met them face-to-face, her deadlines took on greater importance, because they now affected friends and colleagues who were real to her, not just Skype, voices or faceless emails.
But precisely why does this happen? Why are face-to- face meetings so impactful?
You Light Up My Brain
When people are engaged in a fruitful conversation, where everyone is bubbling with ideas, they often feel like they are “in sync” with everyone around them.
Researchers at Beijing Normal University made a startlingdiscovery:Thisisn’tjustaperception,it’sbrain chemistry at work.7 Using brain imaging technology,other up-close, face-to-face, areas of their brain associated with empathy and social cognition light up at the same time.
As a result, conversations are more harmonious. People take turns in the conversation more easily and seamlessly than they do when they are talking on the phone or through video conferencing.
And that’s a critical insight, because other research has discovered the most important factors in how well a group performs is whether they “read” each other and take turns in the conversation. In fact, taking turns in conversations is a bigger predictor of a successful collaboration than motivation going into the meetingand being satisfied with it immediately afterwards.
Interestingly, researchers found the quality of com- munication trumped the quantity of communication.
This means an occasional face-to-face meeting may have more impact than a daily deluge of emails,phone chats, or video conferences. It’s the definitionof less is more.
Clearly, much of the benefits of face-to-facecommunications are happening at a subconscious level. Consider a remarkable study, conducted by MIT, where meeting participants wore devices called
“sociometric badges.”8 These might be called un-tape recorders. Instead of recording what people they say, the devices captured almost every other element of verbal interaction – tone of voice; how often people interrupt each other; whether they lean forward as another person speaks. The researchers found these intimate gestures and almost imperceptible actions determine the outcome of a negotiation or a sales pitch, the quality of group decision making, and the roles people assume within the group.
Face-to-face meetings may be particularly important for designers and other people whose businesses depend on creativity and generating a stream of ideas.
Tellingly, the MIT study found that people said
they had a “productive” or “creative” day when team members face one another, and their conversations and gestures were energetic. In other surveys, 85% of people have said that face-to-face meetings are more likely to result in “breakthrough thinking.”9
This perception translates into tangible results.
For example, in another study, researchers asked people to conduct brainstorming sessions in three different ways: on the phone, in video chats, and in person. People in face-to-face meetings generated50% more ideas than they did when they spoke on the phone. They came up with 70% more ideas than when they collaborated over video.10
“A face-to-face meeting between two people who
do not know each other resulted in more creative
ideas than the other two methods,” explains Dr. Paul Redford, the consulting psychologist who conductedthe study. “There is a significant difference in thenumber of creative ideas generated, a marginal but notable difference in the quality of those ideas and also a greater variety of ideas produced.”
The bottom line: The more people looked into eachother’s eyes, the more likely they were to confide ineach other. And this leads to a wellspring of ideas, because creativity is enhanced by openness and trust.
So don’t toss out your cellphone or cancel your email account – just use them to schedule more facetime with colleagues and clients.