All News and events

In the age of technology, what’s the true price of cutting out face-to-face performance conversations?When organisations are tempted to start carrying out staff appraisals online instead of face-to-face, what’s the implication for relationships between bosses and their people?

This was the interjection from a Senior Partner, in a recent workshop about appraisal conversations etc…

‘Surely we don’t have to sit around having feedback conversations any more. There are smarter ways to give feedback. There are apps… there are online platforms… we can give written, continuous in the moment feedback.’

This was the interjection from a Senior Partner, in a recent workshop about appraisal conversations, which we ran for a global accounting firm. Not everyone agreed (that’s an understatement) and there was some rolling of eyes. But does he have a point?

In the spirit, of Threshold we decided to take another long hard look and see where the evidence takes us. For example, when it comes to influencing the behaviour of others can we do this through our online connections? The answer is yes, up to a point. We know that ‘inauthentic’ Facebook accounts, operating out of Russia, purchased over $100,000 of carefully targeted Facebook advertising in the twelve months before the US election – largely sowing discord around race and immigration. Why Facebook? They were capitalising on powerful algorithms that micro-segment the audience according to attitude.

But supposing we are looking to influence someone to do something for us personally; to make some sort of commitment that means a sacrifice for them. Will contacting members of our network online, have the same affect as meeting with them face-to-face? The answer… it’s not even close! What’s more it seems we tend to delude ourselves about the power of online communication. We tend significantly to overestimate the impact we will have when communicating with people over social media or via email.

A recent study by Venessa Bohns of Cornell University and Mahdi Roghanizad of Western University produced some eye-opening results. The researchers asked a sample of forty-five participants to reach out to ten personal contacts each, requesting a personal favour (in this case, giving up some time to complete a survey.) All of the participants followed an identical script when making their request, however half did so over email and half did so face-to-face. Before sending their requests, participants were asked to estimate the likelihood of their requests being successful. Participants estimated the likely success of their requests, at around 50%, regardless of whether the requests were face-to-face or online. Reality showed up something quite different. Requests made face-to-face were a staggering thirty-four times more likely to be successful.

Having discovered similar results when replicating the study, the researchers posit that people making their requests repeatedly underestimate the importance of ‘non-verbal cues.’

Suppose the purpose of our communication is to support or nurture other people… One of the most insightful studies (Seltzer, Prososki, Ziegler, & Pollak, 2012)took a sample of girls and asked them to complete a stressful task. Following the task they were given a supportive message from their mothers. Having received the message, the researchers sought to measure the reduction in the girls’ stress symptoms. And here’s the rub, some received the message face to face, some over the telephone, and some via text. Where the communication had taken place face to face, there was significant reduction in stress symptoms, such as levels of cortisol and an increase in neuro-hormones associated with positive feelings such as oxytocin. Where the communication was delivered via text the impact was negligible. Interestingly, a telephone conversation was shown to have a significantly positive effect. The conclusion: Face to face is best, but if you really can’t be present, pick up the telephone.