In this fast-paced, techno-charged era of e-mail, blogs, wikis, instant messaging and virtual meeting technologies, one universal truth remains: Face-to-face is still the most preferred, productive and powerful communication medium. In fact, the more business professionals communicate electronically, the more pressing becomes the need for personal interaction.
A recent study by the Harvard Business Review confirms that most leaders put great importance on doing business in person--and link it directly to the bottom line. The study shows that 87 percent of professionals think that face-to-face meetings are essential for sealing a business deal, while 95 percent said they are the key to successful, long-lasting business relationships.
In face-to-face meetings, our brains process the continual cascade of nonverbal cues that we use as the basis for building trust and professional intimacy. Face-to-face interaction is information-rich. We interpret what people say to us only partially from the words they use. We get most of the message (and all of the emotional nuance behind the words) from vocal tone, pacing, facial expressions and body language. And we rely on immediate feedback--the instantaneous responses of others--to help us gauge how well our ideas are being accepted.
In face-to-face exchanges people watch each other's expressions to monitor reactions to what's being said and heard. Even when some words are missed, observing the expression on a speaker's face can help the listener follow a conversation.
We may have spent years learning to read and write at various levels of mastery, but no one had to teach us to send and respond to nonverbal signals. In fact, our brains need and expect these more primitive and significant channels of information. When we are denied these interpersonal cues, the brain struggles and communication suffers.
So potent is this nonverbal link between individuals that, when we are in genuine rapport with someone, we subconsciously match our body positions, movements and even our breathing rhythms with theirs. Most interesting, in face-to-face encounters, the brain's "mirror neurons" (the neural mechanism that fires when we perform an act and see another perform that same action) mimic not just behaviors but sensations and feelings as well.
It's called limbic synchrony, and we're hardwired for it. The moment we see an emotion expressed on someone's face--or read it in his or her...