What is face-to-face communication and why is it important?

Updated 30 September 2022

Communication between people can include both verbal and non-verbal elements that you experience when interacting face-to-face. Face-to-face communication is common both in and out of the workplace and can bring many benefits. Learning about the benefits of personally connecting with people while communicating can help you apply this skill in your career. In this article, we look at what face-to-face communication is, discuss why it can be beneficial and explain how you can improve your communication skills.

Read more: 8 types of nonverbal communication at work (with examples)

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What is face-to-face communication?

Face-to-face communication is when two or more people see and physically interact with each other. It's also known as personal communication. Aside from the message, thoughts, or information you intend to share with your colleagues, personal communication allows you and the other receiver to read nonverbal cues, such as body language, tone of voice and facial expression. All of these help you respond and interact with colleagues, clients or customers in the best possible manner.

Scenarios in which personal communication may be useful

Below are examples places in which personal communication may occur:

  • annual staff meetings with management

  • sales meeting with prospective clients

  • social gatherings with colleagues in the workplace or other professionals in the industry

  • meetings with managers

Read more: A guide to the 7 Cs of communication

Benefits of communicating face-to-face

Below are some benefits of face-to-face interaction in the workplace:

Builds trust

Trust is crucial for building sustainable relationships in the workplace. Meeting with colleagues and communicating with them face-to-face can show that you value them and whatever they say. When interacting with people, they observe your body language, facial expressions and emotions. These non-verbal cues are key in communication, as they provide a glimpse of your personality, and it also helps the person you're communicating with assess whether you're credible and worth building a relationship with. Prospective clients also get to know if they can trust your services.

Makes persuasion easier

When you can look at someone's face while communicating with them, it can make it easier to convince or persuade the person. If you have a client in a different geographical area, the distance and cost of commuting to a physical location may be expensive. Rather than sending clients long texts explaining what you do or relying on travel, communicating via video conference tools is one way of face-to-face communication that may help you.

For example, if you work as a salesperson, you may have a conversation in which you explain your services to a prospective client and present your charges for that service. During this conversation, the look on your client's face show how they feel about the charges. If their gestures suggest reluctance or hesitation, you can further explain the benefits of the services and persuade the client to accept. If you had this conversation via a phone call, you might have missed the clues that these extra efforts were necessary to convince the client.

Read more: The importance of nonverbal communication in the workplace

Speeds up communication

Communicating face-to-face can be an easier and quicker way to communicate in the workplace than other methods. For example, sending out emails to the rest of your team that require an immediate response can take time, especially if it requires the entire team to make a joint decision. In this case, engaging in a physical conversation might be faster. During a physical conversation, you can instantly ask follow-up questions on the subject. The team members may even engage in a productive brainstorming session, which could last for a shorter time rather than sending emails back and forth.

Helps in conflict resolution

This mode of communication is one of the best methods of resolving conflicts amongst colleagues. For example, when they share their sides of the story, the tone of their voice may indicate what they feel. For instance, a calm voice may show worry, while a person with a loud voice may still be angry. As a team leader, when settling conflicts amongst team members, team members know you expect them to conduct themselves better in the future when you use a firm tone.

Also, when you proffer a solution on how to settle the conflict between team members, the posture and facial expression of either party can give you an insight into how they feel about what you have said. Paying attention to these details can help you enhance understanding of people's true feelings and promote mutual resolution.

Increases employee participation

One of the major benefits of personal communication is that it increases employees' participation in the workplace. Working physically with other employees helps to build relationships and workplace teamwork. Organisations conduct activities and gatherings where the entire staff interact, engage in meaningful discussions and get to know each other. These events help foster the bond among employees. When you feel connected with your colleagues, it's easier to actively participate in meetings and contribute without feeling less valued.

Prevents misinterpretation of information

Interacting directly allows you to pass information clearly to your colleagues, with no one assuming it means something else. On the contrary, a colleague might misinterpret a text message they receive. For instance, if you email a colleague and write part of the message in capital letters, the recipient might see you as angry with them, whereas you may have intended to emphasise that part and perhaps show the urgency of such a message.

If you're communicating in person with a fellow employee, your tone of voice and body language can help them better understand what message you are passing on to them. Also, if they're unclear about a part of what you have said, you can immediately clarify.

Protects confidentiality

You may want a piece of information to get to only one person, but there is a risk of other people hearing or reading what is being discussed if it's an online meeting. You can reveal sensitive information in a private face-to-face setting. In this setting, you can avoid a recording of the meeting, which provides confidentiality to the people involved.

An assurance of confidentiality allows the people involved in the meeting to speak expressly and not without credible information. Some information is sensitive, and necessary measures are to be taken to ensure this information does not leak. Meeting face-to-face helps avoid other unwanted people listening in on the conversation.

Reduces distractions

Distractions happen during virtual meetings. This might be because the environment a participant is joining the meeting from may not be primarily a work space. This means an individual might not focus well during online communication. There's less of a tendency for distraction when communicating face-to-face, since you can engage directly with fewer distractions. Words, body gestures and eye contacts all help ensure focus and seamless communication.

How to improve face-to-face communication

There are different ways to improve personal communication in the workplace and they include:

1. Practise what you intend to say

Although communicating with someone face-to-face may allow you to clarify what message you intend to pass to your colleagues instantly, it's helpful to practise what you intend to say to ensure you deliver clear and concise information and don't omit anything. Also, if you're speaking to a junior colleague or an employee who works in a different field from you, you may use simpler and less technical terms so that they understand your message.

Read more: Why is communication important? (And how to improve it)

2. Pay attention to non-verbal cues

Communication is much more than the words that come from someone's mouth. Nonverbal communication ought to complement what you're saying. Try to adjust once what you are saying is different from what your tone, body language, and expression are indicating. If you're unable to adjust, you may leave your audience confused about what you mean.

Related: What is Professional Body Language?

3. Use technology

When it's not possible to interact in the same space, try using tech tools to communicate virtually while still enjoying the benefits of physical interaction. For example, video chat allows participants to communicate face-to-face even when they're not in the same location. In the absence of a physical place or location where you can meet the person and talk, you can consider using conference calls apps with a camera feature. When you turn on the camera, it allows you to see the person and vice versa as you interact.

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