The Changing Landscape and the Future of Active Listening
Studies have shown that face-to-face (F2F) communications are “better” than digital/electronic communications like email, instant messaging, computer-generated text, audio/video conferencing, phone/cell, and social media).
In an increasingly digital world, what drives this perception?
In the western world, it is generally understood that effective and efficient communication is in place when a sender sends a message to a receiver that is understood as intended. That said, the concept of face-to-face communication being “better” from the perspective of effectiveness and efficiency is tempered by a number of factors, such as culture, language, situation, generational differences, audience, security, speed, and cognitive ability, among others.
Some consider communication effectiveness to be about quality, while efficiency can be about time, cost, and the ability to communicate over distance. For BRMs, however, the key is to participate in active listening, through which they can build stronger relationships and communicate intent vs. impact more effectively. Active listening involves reflecting the speaker’s words back to them, giving feedback, and probing for more information to expand the conversation at hand.
For BRMs…the key is to participate in active listening, through which they can build stronger relationships and communicate intent vs. impact more effectively.
In a changing world, BRMs must find a way to insert these active listening skills into both F2F and digital conversations.
What is it that differentiates F2F from digital communication?
Face-to-face communication has been estimated to be roughly 7% verbal and 93% non-verbal (including body language, visual cues, tone, and inflection). These non-verbal cues increase the likelihood of building meaningful relationships with the opportunity for the speaker to influence, persuade, energize, and collaborate with the listener, while decreasing any chance of misunderstanding due to the ability to adjust to one another in real-time.
That said, F2F communication may be prohibitive in large organizations or busy, distracting environments—especially if audiences are geographically dispersed. This is no doubt why many organizations have taken to utilizing digital methods of communication, which are less bound by distance or cost and allow for the quick delivery and dissemination of information.
“Quicker” and “cheaper” doesn’t necessarily mean “better” for BRMs, though, who must focus on relationship-building in order to be successful in their role. The price of communicating primarily on-screen typically involves the potential for misunderstood messages, a lack of rapport, and even increased security risks.
The changing landscape and the future of active listening
The concept of active listening is arguably a learned behavior, and if the parties communicating are not engaged or actively listening, the intended message is likely to be lost. As younger generations are increasingly influenced by the (highly distracting) digital world, the concept of active listening may in time even become a lost art.
Such an occurrence could potentially undermine the effectiveness of F2F communication as current digital communication capabilities begin compensating or approximating for the ability to transmit the non-verbal aspects of F2F communication.
From the perspective of business relationship management, initial communication should take place face-to-face, primarily because it is more conducive to establishing a trusting, collaborative, and sustained relationship.
That said, if time, cost, and distance impact the feasibility of this approach, BRMs should establish the face-to-face relationship first and later sustain the relationship by leveraging digital communication methods.
BRMs should establish the face-to-face relationship first and later sustain the relationship by leveraging digital communication methods.
As the world becomes increasingly digital, BRMs exist at a critical crossroads of building relationships using traditional F2F methods and utilizing the latest technology and digital updates to be successful in their role.
Keith Stolte has over 31 years’ experience in multiple IT roles, including Business Relationship Manager, Sr. Project/Program/Portfolio Manager, Sr. Business Analyst, Process Improvement, Systems Engineering, Corporate Manager of Quality Assurance Information Systems, and Sr. Architect Specialist in multiple industries. He has a passion for business relationship management and currently works for a global automotive company with responsibility for the North American Powertrain Operations New Model programs.
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