Face-to-Face Communication – A Key Consulting Skill

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Author : Robert Bullock
Published: May 22, 2014

Recently, as high-def video conferences, online meetings, document sharing, and other advancements have become commonplace, consultants are more required to be tech-savvy, computer-literate, flexible, and responsive. Even as consulting skills evolve with the times, this does not mean that traditional skills such as face-to-face communication are on the downswing. In fact, a Forbes survey of 760 business executives revealed that 8 of 10 executives still prefer face-to-face contact over virtual communications, citing reasons such as helping build stronger relationships, allowing them to read nonverbal cues, and allowing them to bond with peers and clients. Even as virtual communication continues to flourish in the business world, face-to-face communication will never become an obsolete consulting skill. Therefore, we wrote this article to help you assess your own face-to-face communication and improve your skills.

Why all the fuss?

Communicating face-to-face is so commonplace that it is often taken for granted as a core consulting skill. At the same time, it is almost impossible to imagine working without it. Face-to-face communication is quite possibly the most commonly expressed consulting skill – one that truly seems to embody that old allegory, “where the [consulting] rubber meets the road.” Face-to-face communication serves a number of critical consulting functions, such as:

  • Capturing attention 
  • Increasing buy-in and commitment
  • Developing networks
  • Strengthening relationships
  • Building trust with clients
  • Energizing others

Face-to-face communication is such a broad, general construct that it almost does no good to think of it as “one thing.” Instead, let’s examine its pieces. Face-to-face communication can be broken out into multiple categories. The ones that are particularly relevant for us consultants (and managers in general) include:

  1. Sharing information and expressing ideas
  2. Understanding and recognizing information and ideas
  3. Expressing thoughts and feelings
  4. Responding to others’ thoughts and feelings

Rate your own face-to-face communication

How strong is your face-to-face communication? Take a moment to rate your own communication skill on the four categories above. Read each of the items below then write your score on the blank line at the beginning of each item. Score yourself using the following rating scheme:

  • 1 = I don’t do this at all
  • 2 = I sometimes do this
  • 3 = I regularly do this
  1. Sharing information and expressing ideas ______ Being specific by providing details and giving examples ______ Being strategic by sharing the rationale behind your ideas and decisions (e.g., how does idea X contribute to goal Y or strategy Z?) ______ Being concise, brief, and to-the-point as opposed to verbose ______ Being assertive, confident, and definitive as opposed to apologetic or hesitant

  2. Understanding and recognizing information and ideas ______ Listening in order to understand as opposed to preparing your next remark ______ Asking probing questions to encourage more information sharing ______ Summarizing key thoughts and points of agreement/disagreement ______ Checking in to make sure you understand key points before agreeing/disagreeing

  3. Expressing thoughts and feelings ______ Letting others know when you did not understand ______ Letting others know when you disagree in a straightforward respectful manner ______ Letting others know when you agree or like something they did or said ______ Letting others know when they veered off-course or changed the topic

  4. Responding to others’ thoughts and feelings ______ Asking what others are feeling without assuming you know ______ Responding to others who are discontent, angry, or hurt by acknowledging their feelings ______ Responding to others who express warmth or closeness in a way that acknowledges their feelings ______ When working with a group, surveying members to get a sense of their agreement/disagreement

Improve your face-to-face communication

After gaining some perspective on your approach to face-to-face communication, the next step will be to develop your skill in a few key areas. As you do this, keep in mind that face-to-face communication is a balancing game – be sure to avoid overkill. Not every item follows the “more=better” approach. For example, communicating in a brief and concise manner is generally a good thing (it increases understanding and gets your point across without generating a lot of extra “noise”), but when taken to the extreme you run the risk of coming across as hostile or uncommunicative.

To improve your face-to-face communication skill, follow these steps:

Go back through and circle three low-rated items that you think would be most beneficial for you to improve

For each item, take a moment to reflect on what it would look like to improve (e.g., what does it mean to share the rationale behind your ideas? what would it look like to be more strategic in your face-to-face communication?)

Write down a clear and concise SMART goal for each item (e.g., “In the next scoping conversation with my client, I will take three minutes to discuss the rationale behind my proposed project plan by explaining how each deliverable contribute to the desired outcomes”

Track your progress against these goals and immediately write new goals after accomplishing them (new goals should be written so that you can apply each improvement item to different contexts

Continue this cycle until you have incorporated each item into your regular communication across contexts and clients

Face-to-face communication is here for the long haul, and there are clear benefits for us consultants to step back and take a look at how we talk with our clients. When we develop our own communication skills, we are upgrading our most important product – ourselves. Happy communication!

References: 1 Forbes Insights. (2009). Business meetings: The case for face-to-face. Retrieved from http://images.forbes.com/forbesinsights/StudyPDFs/BusinessMeetingsFaceToFace.pdf 2 McEuen, M., & Duffy, C. (2010). The future of meetings: The case for face-to-face. Hospitality Industry Perspective, 6. Retrieved from http://www.themaritzinstitute.com/Perspectives/~/media/Files/MaritzInstitute/White-Papers/The-Case-for-Face-to-Face-Meetings-The-Maritz-Institute.pdf

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