INSIDE TUCSON BUSINESS
By: Roger Yohem
October 12, 2012
Face-to-face communications, dubbed FTF, is not “old school.” In business, FTF has an important bottom line: minimize misunderstandings and maximize effectiveness.
No other communications tactic tops sitting down with someone and looking them straight in the eye. Their non-verbal body language — nodding, smiling, looking away or yawning — signals whether the message is getting through.
Try that with an email or text.
Today’s workplace is a mix of traditional communicators and younger “virtual” communicators who are “new school” tech-addicts. Many of them, however, have phone-phobia and weak inter-personal communications skills.
When a big project or key decision is in play, many “work” on it via one-dimensional email. Based on experience, that can take more time than simply calling the co-worker or walking upstairs for a chat.
Don’t misunderstand, digital dialogue has its place. Time restricts FTF. Email excels at setting meetings. Memos are terrific for issues that require background.
For business and civic officials, message clarity is their key to effective leadership. It is important that all employees focus on the same major goals.
When business needs to be done, I asked several community leaders what tactics work best for them?
My communications style is:
“There is nothing better than a face-to-face meeting, particularly when dealing with two parties who are having disagreements. While there was a time not many years ago when I believed in only face-to-face meetings, I have found in my new role that e-mail is so effective dealing with constituents quickly, getting their concerns to the people in the City who can help them, and assuring quick response.
“Now, it is important to try to get ahead of issues, which is why I have a weekly press conference, a comprehensive newsletter, Facebook, answer every journalist’s call, and try to be as accessible as possible. Soon I will give my web site a full revision.
“I have found there is no replacement for direct communication. A person may not always get the answer they want but almost everyone appreciates being heard and getting a response.“
~ Jonathan Rothschild, City of Tucson Mayor
“Perhaps fitting my roots as a transportation engineer, I consider effective communication a two-way street.
“Effective managers do not insist subordinates blindly follow orders. They encourage expansive thinking and motivate employees to provide feedback. It is likewise important, given the complexities of the opportunities and challenges we face, that employees hear directly from each other to encourage inter-departmental cooperation and cross-pollination of ideas.
“Although I admit to a particular penchant for memos and dictation devices, it is difficult to pinpoint one dominant style of communication. Again, to use a transportation analogy, streetlights, stop signs and road warning signs all work together to ensure the driver gets the intended message.
“Similarly, given the breadth of communication needs among diverse groups, including constituents, employees and elected officials, I try to craft a cohesive message using many styles, rather than expecting one style to work across the board.”
~ Chuck Huckelberry, Pima County Administrator
“I remember the big debate in our staff meeting a couple decades ago related to whether the office should buy a fax machine. We did and it revolutionized how we communicated, shortening the time frame to hours or even minutes! Who could have foreseen how email (and text messaging) would accelerate the speed of communications to mere seconds.
“Lesson learned: don’t fight technology.
“I rely on email heavily now. With the telephone, you often wind up talking to someone’s voice mail and playing phone tag. Of course, there are times when it’s too detailed to put into an email so the phone is still useful. And there are times you must interact face-to-face. So, email allows me to “talk” to more than one person at a time and it makes me more productive.
“I’m always careful not to fire off something when I’m angry, and never put something in an email that I wouldn’t want to have to defend publicly.
“Texting? I don’t know the language…”
~ Marshall Vest, director, Economic and Business Research Center at the University of Arizona Eller College of Management.
“I have learned that tone, body language and voice inflection is critical to effectively communicating in the world of public policy and even in everyday life. Unfortunately, right now our community is negatively divided due to a variety of things, including the national election and all that comes with it.
“As a result, people often are on the defense and unless you hear someone’s tone or see their body language, it is easy to take things out of context and talk past each other. Once people feel their viewpoint is threatened, it is difficult to bring parties to the table to find common ground — something I strive for in every discussion and negotiation.”
~ Amber Smith, director, Metropolitan Pima Alliance
“Effective communication depends on several elements, but the goal is the same: information from the sender is received and clearly understood by the receiver. Electronic communication is great for speed and communication of facts. But nothing beats old school eye-to-eye communication when communication involves emotion, depth and reciprocity.
“Body language is missing from e-mail and often says more than words. Generally, the less personal the communication, the more “okay” it is to use e-mail, letters, text messages, etc. The more personal the communication, the more important it is to look someone in the eye.”
~ Mike Varney, president and CEO, Tucson Metro Chamber
“Written! That semester of typing my sophomore year was worth its weight in gold. Since my fingers fly faster than I think, I rely heavily on email, with caveats. A wise man once told me: ‘Never use email to convey bad news, and once the tenor is contentious, pick up the phone.’
“I’m a big believer in texts and emails to convey information. They fend off phone tag and are easier to scan for meaning than a voicemail when the message is lengthy. Using tools like Doodle for meeting scheduling can be a big time saver.
“At the end of the day, commercial real estate is a relationship business and we rely heavily on personal interaction. You’re most successful when you tailor communications to the preferences of your client.”
“Call me a dinosaur. I will proudly own that label.
“Unfortunately, interpersonal communication is becoming a lost art. State-of-the-art technical skills are wonderful and even essential today. However, in my opinion, those employees who can successfully combine technical skills with “old-school” personal communication skills will own the future.
“I am frustrated when I observe our employees text or email when a personal contact or telephone call could be much more powerful in relationship building. There are certainly times when electronic outreach is more efficient and effective.
“However, speaking for the dinosaurs of the world, when dealing with matters of importance I prefer talking over coffee or receiving a warm personal telephone call. I find it is easier to build trust through personal communications than through impersonal electronic channels.”
~ Steven Banzhaf, U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management
“Face-to-face, or at least verbal communication. I am a high-touch person and believe personal interaction is critical to thoughtful conversation, important perspectives and sharing of priorities and beliefs.
“Email has its place for some types of communication needs but nuances are often lost and the chances of mis-communicating the real intent or message are high.
“In other words, I don’t think you can lead by email.
“For effective communication, you need to be open, honest and direct with people. Real, lasting relationships and partnerships are the result of the hard work of getting to know others, building trust and finding common ground.”
~ Joe Snell, presdent and CEO, Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities
“It depends on the situation. I normally call and discuss. I like the feedback, the back and forth and coming to a solution together. I can also get a good idea how they feel when hearing their voice versus an email. I do email if it is simple, timely or just a straightforward request or question.
“I’ll have FTF with more ‘meaty’ issues or strategic thinking, personal issues, finances, etc. I like interacting with folks in our organization as I think ‘face’ time is important, it allows me to connect with my employees. I also think they value the time I personally interact with them. I value my employees’ opinions and they know they can call me anytime.
“I’m more verbal and interactive with those in my organization vs. corresponding strictly with email. I do email, but only if the matter is rather simple and straightforward.”
~ George “Hank” Amos, president, Tucson Realty & Trust
Contact Roger Yohem at [email protected] or (520) 295-4254. His Business Ink appears biweekly and weighs in on local political, social and business issues.