Hang Up the Phone: Why Video Is the Best Way to Connect With People

by Paul Michael on 15 May 2012 (2 comments)

This post is sponsored by Skype. It's time to say more and stay human. It's time for Skype.

Did you ever hear about a friend or relative who sent a sympathy text or consolation email when they heard about a loved one passing? It’s always felt cold to me, regardless of the intent. 

Similarly, have you ever gotten into a heated debate over an email or text, simply because your true intention was lost in translation? I know I have.

As humans, we are built to communicate face-to-face. Anyone who’s ever seen an episode of “Lie to Me” will know that we give off hundreds of tiny clues that we are preprogrammed to pick up on. And the way we speak, the tone we use, the hand gestures we make — they all form part of the whole conversation.

In effect, when you text or email, you are cutting out a huge part of the communication process. It's like you’re only using one of the senses instead of four or five.

Here, then, are seven reasons why you should always use video to connect with people over long distances, whether in your professional or personal life. 

1. You Can’t See Emotions in Emails and Texts

As a species, we do most of our communication non-verbally. That isn’t to say we can’t communicate just fine over email and text messaging, but it has severe limitations. After all, the only real emotions you can show through text are anger (ALL CAPS), excitement (!!!!!!), and silly emoticons. But all the subtleties of human interaction and communication are completely lost. It’s like we’ve devolved. 

With face-to-face communications, such as videoconferencing, the emotion is brought back into the picture. What could have sounded cold or even frustrated in an email or text could be seen completely differently when a real person speaks it. You can see affection in their eyes, hear the tone of their voice, and realize that they may be nervous or shy, not cold and aloof.

2. A Picture SAVES a Thousand Words

If you’re in a close relationship with someone, you don’t need to hear them speak to know something is very wrong or very right. They could be bursting with excitement, or they could have just received some awful news. Either way, you know it. You feel it, you sense it, and it’s all in the many micro expressions that we display on our faces.

Those small expressions are not evident in emails and texts. Even the large emotions go astray. If you get into an instant messaging conversation with someone, you really have no idea what the other person is feeling unless they spell it out. A simple “I’m doing fine” in response to a “how are you doing?” is missing too many clues to know what the author is really feeling. They may be fine, better than fine, or really depressed. It could take time to coax those emotions out of someone, if they’re even willing to via email. And as the emotions in your texts are missing too, they will miss the tone of your voice and the kindness in your eyes when you make a genuine inquiry. Your probes for information could come across as rude or pushy, or even uncaring and insensitive.

Only with face-to-face communication is this solved. Our faces are open books and very easy for people to read (most of the time). This saves a whole lot of chit-chat, and ultimately, saves time (and maybe even friendships, relationships, or business accounts).

3. It’s Personal, and Therefore, Acceptable in More Situations

There are times in life when a simple email or text just will not do. As I mentioned in the opening, a text or email saying “sorry for your loss” will never be as warm and heartfelt as expressing those very same condolences in person. But sometimes, it’s just not possible to be there in person. I know that first hand — my parents and the rest of my family live in England, and I’m in Colorado. So when it comes to genuine "happy birthday," or a big sorry, video conferencing is the only way to go. I can see my family, they can see me, and more importantly, they can see the real emotions on my face and feel the genuine emotions I am giving out. Emails, texts, and even regular phone calls just aren’t the same. And as we now live in a world that is made so much smaller by videoconferencing, it seems silly not to take advantage of it whenever possible. The future is now!

4. People Don’t Like to Lie to Your Face!

Well, most people anyway. In a text message or email, little white lies (or big nasty ones) are much easier to tell. People do it all the time. “Sorry, can’t make it, feeling ill,” or “I definitely sent that letter, it must have got lost.” Those same lies, however, are much more difficult to tell when you’re face-to-face with someone. You will know this yourself, especially if you have children. They can lie to you easily when you call upstairs and ask what they’re doing. But look them in the eye, and they find it so much harder to tell a fib. It’s basic human nature, because the visual clues that give away lies are easily spotted. Take away those clues, and liars have a field day.

5. Group Tasks Thrive on Face-to-Face Interaction

Brainstorming, meetings, and all other forms of group communications suffer when people are not literally talking to each other face-to-face. Talking to someone, or several people, on the phone is not even close to a substitution for seeing them. There’s an automatic lack of trust, especially if you’ve never met the person before, and also a feeling of insecurity. If you’ve been in any kind of business meeting using basic phone conferencing, or emailing and texting, you instantly wonder what the people on the other end of the line are actually up to. Are they serious about this? Are they making fun of your ideas, or are they staring at the ceiling? Who is in the room that isn’t saying a word? With video conferencing, those doubts disappear, and your mind can begin to work on the task at hand, rather than worry about the things you’re not seeing.

6. Remote Business Presentations Are So Much Better With Live Video

As a creative in the advertising business, this is something I know a lot about. Clients and agencies are separated not just by states, but continents these days. There’s no reason a client in London can’t have an agency in Los Angeles. But the costs of travel make it prohibitive to meet, especially if those meetings happen often. With video conferencing, the distance doesn’t matter any more. A creative team in one country can present ideas to a client half way around the world. The story boards and visuals can be held up to the camera, or inserted into the video stream, and the presentation is both seamless and professional. Clients won’t skip ahead, like they often do when on a phone call, accompanied by a printed handout or PowerPoint presentation. And both sides have a chance to judge the actual reactions of the audience, something that’s very important when figuring out the efficacy of an ad campaign.

7. You Can Have True Interactivity

This applies not just to business, but also to friends and family. Let’s take the all-too-typical scenario of families separated by great distances. The grandkids can talk to their grandparents on the phone. That’s fine. They can email or text, which is OK. But with video conferencing, it’s almost like being in the same room. The grandkids can hold up some of their pictures to show nana and papa. They can sing songs, clap hands, play games, and even blow kisses. It’s as close as families can get without being in the same room, and it can work over the greatest of distances.

With homework assignments, friends can collaborate on projects visually, not just over email or phone. And with business meetings, each party can see real-time sketches and white board ideas. This is the ultimate way to communicate, other than being together in person or inventing some kind of hard-light hologram. 

In short, although the phone is great, and email and texts are quick and cost effective, the only way to really connect with people is using the visual elements available in video conferencing. It’s the way forward.

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Guest's picture

Thanks for the advice! This has encouraged me to use video chat way more often! You were right on when you pointed out texts can lead to arguments because people can't tell how you actually feel. I have been in several of these types of arguments as well!

Another thing is that you don't always know what you SHOULD be saying when YOU don't accurately interpret the previous messages from who you are talking to. For example, imagine a text conversation where in the middle of it one person mentions they are upset about something. The other person may not see it as a huge issue and misinterpret that they were only slightly bothered. Then, they might not spend enough time talking about it and just say, "I'm sorry, I hope it gets better," and then move on to another subject. This can easily lead to unnecessary conflict that could have been avoided with a video chat.

Guest's picture

I love skype and video calling. This is best for communicating between families. But there are times when video calling is inappropriate especially in business. It'll be awkward to talk to a client if you're not presentable.

These communication tools have their strengths and weaknesses.

Best regards,