The Value of Face-to-Face Conversations
Call me old-fashioned, but nothing beats having a face-to-face conversation with another person.
Sorry, Facebook. Sorry, Twitter. Sorry, Skype. But I really don’t think any social media site, gadget, or app can replace this method of communication—the most authentic way of connecting with another human being.
When you're chatting with someone in person, you can capture all sorts of subtle nuances that social media, Internet video calls, and email just can’t. There’s just something about the physical presence of another that speaks volumes without the need to utter a word.
When I first started interviewing for a newspaper reporting job after wrapping up my undergraduate studies in journalism almost a decade ago—before the birth of social media—many of the editors who interviewed me asked the same question: Do you prefer meeting with a source face-to-face or do you prefer sending them an email?
I prefer meeting with them in person, I would say. But I didn't mean it. I would only say this because it's what I thought they wanted to hear. That's the kind of thing you do when you're 22, graduation's on the horizon, and you just want to land your first real job in your field of study.
These editors didn't buy it. And, looking back, I'm glad they didn't because I didn't understand the significance of face-to-face conversations.
When two people sit down to chat, an exchange takes place. This exchange consists of words and gestures that flow reciprocally—back-and-forth—from one person to another. It's a beautiful process to observe—a process I had been encouraged to observe during my undergraduate studies in psychology, which was my minor.
I was too busy trying to wrangle my first reporting job back then to remember that tip. Consequently, I failed to see the importance of what these editors were asking. They weren't just trying to determine if I was introverted or extroverted. They were really trying to see if I was willing to set aside quick and easy methods of communication for the sake of building an interpersonal relationship with my sources through face-to-face dialogue—the kind of dialogue that would help me determine the genuineness of the source's answers by reading into cues, nuances, and body language.
In hindsight, my answer at age 22 was very irresponsible. Thankfully, my viewpoint changed over time.
During the five years when I worked as a reporter, face-to-face interactions not only served to make sources transparent, but also helped the sources I worked with feel they could trust me, which was something I really valued because I wanted them to genuinely trust me. Meeting with them in person assured them that I would go to guns if I had to just to make sure I captured the full accuracy of their story or—if I worked with them regularly—that I was looking out for them even as I worked to maintain objective fairness.
Deception’s easy online. We always hear about the intentional kind of online deception such as fraud and identity theft, but online deception can also be unintentional and lead to all sorts of unnecessary complexities between two people that can hurt or damage a relationship.
When you sit behind a keyboard, you wield a lot of power. When you’re engaging with another this way, you can make yourself out to be someone you’re not. And, even if you weave an incredible tale, you can never truly be sure you’ve capture the undivided attention of the person staring back at you on the screen. After all, you’re both in separate spaces, miles and miles apart.
The world’s becoming a much smaller place and there clearly are advantages to online communication, especially among people who have to work at a distance.
The value of face-to-face interaction, however, should never be cast aside, eclipsed, or completely replaced because we’ll really miss out on a lot—we'll miss out on the cues and nuances that help us learn about ourselves; we'll miss out on validations we can receive from the other person; we'll miss out on the human experience, which is what truly links us together.