You Just Can’t Replace Being Face-to-Face

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By Josh Gold, CAE, CMP

Executive Vice President

Last year at this time, we were hard at work preparing for our first-ever virtual annual meeting — something that a few years ago, I never would have imagined saying. After all, associations are all about coming together, and until last year, that meant in person. This year, “in person” is no longer necessarily a given, as many events are taking place virtually or as some type of hybrid. 

The multifamily industry is a people-focused industry. Over the past seven years, I’ve observed how much FAA members enjoy getting together and how you support your colleagues even though they’re at competing companies — more so than in many other industries. A year or more of staying away from other people has been especially difficult for many of you. Getting together in person at the 2021 FAA Annual Conference & Trade Show is exciting to anticipate. It’s also important for several reasons.

Being face-to-face is key in building relationships. Small talk, shared experiences, laughing together — all forge bonds that are less likely to develop during a virtual event. Researchers at the University of Chicago and Harvard correlated shaking hands with more open and honest negotiations, and better outcomes. A handshake, they found, literally conveys warmth and activates the part of the brain associated with rewards. It remains to be seen whether shaking hands will again become standard practice in post-pandemic business interactions — or whether alternatives such as a fist or elbow bump, a wave, or a “namaste” bow will offer the same benefits.

It’s better for business. Research shows face-to-face requests are 34 times more effective than those sent by email. The Human Dynamics Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology used electronic badges to collect data such as tone of voice and body language. They found that teams which met in person performed measurably better.

Communication is more effective in person. We’ve all experienced a text or email being misconstrued because there’s no tone of voice, facial expressions, or body language. Virtual meeting platforms where we can see and hear each other have helped alleviate some of these misunderstandings, but they’re no match for being face-to-face. In fact, experts say that facial expressions can be more important in conveying a message than tone of voice and word choice combined. 

The eyes have it. When people are happy or excited, their pupils tend to dilate; conversely, fear, anxiety, or sadness cause pupils to contract. You may get the feeling that someone isn’t exactly warming to your message without knowing why, but your subconscious mind might be trying to tell you something. Communicating without eye contact doesn’t give rise to the same instinct. 

Emotions are contagious. Neuroscientists talk about “mirror neurons,” meaning your brain fires up the neurons associated with an action you observe. When someone you’re speaking with smiles, a part of your brain also smiles. If you want someone to get excited about an idea or a product, share your excitement in person.   

Technical difficulties are less problematic. Sure, a microphone might malfunction during a meeting or a PowerPoint presentation might glitch. But those are typically temporary and not very common. On the other hand, how often during an online meeting do we hear “You’re on mute” or, conversely, “Please remember to mute your microphone.” We either don’t hear what the individual was saying, or we hear side conversations that were never meant to be shared. 

It’s easier to be present when you’re, well, present. It’s harder to be distracted or tempted to multitask when you’re in the same room with someone. Have you ever surreptitiously checked your email while on a Zoom call? Of course, you still might do that during an in-person education session, but you’re less likely to “check out” entirely. 

Spontaneous connection is more likely. Virtual meetings don’t create opportunities to cross paths with a colleague heading from one session to another or bump into a speaker in the coffee line. These informal one-on-one moments can be a great source of nuggets of information or valuable building blocks of a positive working relationship. 

Appreciation is better delivered face-to-face. The FAA Annual Conference & Trade Show includes recognition of local volunteers, members of the Executive Committee, Leadership Lyceum graduates, major investors in the Apartment Political Action Committee, and top sponsors — all of whom play important roles in the success of the conference and in making the Florida Apartment Association what it is. We can’t wait to tell you “Thanks” and “Congratulations” — in person. Hope to see you soon!