This is why thoughtful communicators make excellent leaders

Today’s top business leaders recognize that face-to-face interactions are the key to seeing eye-to-eye and building meaningful working relationships.

Contrary to popular belief, in-person interactions are not dead. A recent Harvard Business Review study examined how chief executives manage their time and found that CEOs typically spend 61% of their day in physical meetings. Despite technology providing allegedly adequate substitutes, like videoconferences, today’s top business leaders recognize that face-to-face interactions are literally and metaphorically the key to seeing eye-to-eye and building meaningful working relationships.

Learn the power of networking

In the midst of our busy lives, it’s easy to keep our heads down at our desks, but in doing so we miss out on interactions that allow us to grow personally and professionally. The mere act of seeking to develop deeper connections with people pushes us out of our comfort zones. At the end of a long and challenging work day, conversing with a room full of strangers is often less appealing than relaxing at home, but it’s clear which is more beneficial. Networking is one of the most rewarding experiences for
professionals at all stages of their careers, in part because it demands face-to-face interaction with commitment from both parties.

Don’t let networking intimidate, or worse yet, bore you. There are more ways to network than by attending stuffy dinner parties. Throughout my life and career, I’ve learned to make a conscious effort to take advantage of all interpersonal opportunities that present themselves — from volunteering on boards, to attending interesting lectures and even getting to know my neighbors.

In my opinion, the best interactions come when you aren’t inhibited by looking for anything immediately in return. By building a meaningful relationship, if the time does come to ask a favor, you’ll have a strong foundation of trust and comraderie to fall back on. I’ve also learned if you make that ask in person, it’s much more difficult for the other party to say “no.” Keep in mind, it must not appear abnormal to meet in person for “the ask” or you’re bound to signal ulterior motives.

Think outside the office

In-person meetings are even more enriching when they force participants into a change of scenery. It’s fine to grab a conference room or go around the corner for a cup of coffee, but these are also both comfortable options. Instead, get your team on a plane or a train to see your partners/customers in their home environment. The results are two-fold, benefiting the team dynamic and the partner relationship.

When I lived and worked in China, I regularly met with prospective clients at their offices. It was in those situations where I learned that face-to-face interaction is not just a nice gesture, but a business imperative. In Asia, deals are rarely struck after the first meeting, you should expect to have multiple face-to-face interactions with a variety of individuals at an organization to build a real relationship before business terms are even presented. While this may be a cultural norm, it’s appreciated and respected around the world, and has led our teams to approach all global business deals in a more personal manner. The results are evident in the customers and partners we’ve aligned with from Silicon
Valley to Shenzhen.

International work assignments that require more than a few days, weeks or months are incredibly valuable! At HARMAN, we’ve found varying cultural perspectives to be such a powerful driver of innovation that we exclusively hire executives who have lived in another country for more than a few years. We are also making these opportunities available for junior team members. In launching the new Leadership Experience Acceleration Program, we provide a structure for regular international rotation
for eight months at a time.

Understand that communication is two-way

As important as it is to give yourself the opportunity to expand your network and explore different environments, unless you communicate thoughtfully and strategically along the way, your efforts will be for naught. In any given week, the CEOs that took part in the Harvard Business Review study had 37 meetings that occupied an astonishing three-quarters of their work time. How are these executives expected to run successful companies with so much of their time allocated to strategy rather than
action — no matter how important the sessions might be?

To increase efficiency and give myself space for creativity and growth, I prefer to hold shorter, more direct meetings with a set agenda, actionable goals and limited attendees. I find this system often stimulates the richest engagement for progress. However, the large meeting model can also be effective in the right circumstances, so it’s important to keep an open mind and constantly try new things. I host regular town hall meetings at HARMAN to encourage transparency, generate new ideas and make sure that every single one of our 30,000+ employees has a seat at the table. These gatherings are a cornerstone of employee communications because there are no pre-vetted topics — just honest conversation on their turf. I have been faced with very hard-hitting questions during these visits, and while being in the hot seat isn’t easy, the dialogue provides an important opportunity to hear real observations from our employees and address fears and skepticism that may be percolating.

Demonstrating to your team that you seek to hear the tough perspectives and that you respond with thoughtfulness to their concerns will head off misconceptions and illuminate important issues that must be addressed. That genuine response doesn’t always come across by phone or video, especially while trying to navigate the complexities of language translation. Physical communication, however, is universal.

In-person interactions continue to rule CEOs schedules because of the tacit and overt messages that only face-to-face meetings can convey. Leaders cannot underestimate the power of networking, the value of spending time outside the office or the benefits of engaging in two-way dialogues. Gaining access to the insights, opinions, concerns and great ideas of both those who have an interest in your business and those whose expertise seems totally unrelated can result in a richer, more fulfilling life and career.