The Importance of Meeting Face To Face

A black line drawing on a white background of a pair of feminine eyes and eyebrows.
Image by Annalise Batista from Pixabay

Zoom call over, I shut the laptop, stand up, and my head’s whirling. I expect that, in different variations to this, I am not alone.

I have possibly interacted with more contacts in the space of two months than ever before in that length of time! I have also had some great conversations with great people, which I hope one day to be able to follow up in person.

It is quite amazing that I can visit a meeting at 10am in Leeds, 11.30am in Hertfordshire and 1pm in Canada. We are fortunate to have the technology and infrastructure to have this option. But now I have a tension headache, and I feel relatively empty inside.

During the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown, we have been restricted to networking via online conferencing software, such as Zoom. While this is convenient in some ways – I do not have to leave my home – I worry that it cannot be a long-term solution.

Some people may believe that being able to see someone’s face is enough. Surely simply being able to read facial expression and body language is all you need to communicate? Well actually, not quite.

Autism Trainer & Researcher Dr Elizabeth Guest, who right now is doing research into autism and empathy, reliably informs me that social interaction is really about exchanging packets of emotion.

In fact, she can see this happening when watching people interact in person, but because of her own autism cannot emulate it herself. It is this to and fro of emotion exchanges that build the social and emotional connection that makes social interaction so rewarding.

She reminds me that it is impossible to transmit actual emotion over telephone wires, fibre optic cables, and Wi-Fi. As such Zoom, and other video conferencing software, fall short of real face to face social interaction.

Elizabeth reckons that during our daily Zoom calls (which she avoids like the plague – apart from exercise classes, which don’t involve staring at the computer), we are inferring these packets of emotional information from the words, facial expressions, and body language we see during our video conferencing calls.

This is enough in the short term, but in the long-term actual meetings in person are arguably vital.

Having to infer emotional information, rather than just absorb it like we do in each other’s physical presence, makes networking via Zoom more tiring and less satisfying.

Although there is certainly a place for online networking and Zoom meetings, I suspect that in order to build strong business (and other) relationships, it is important to meet face to face. This is the only way to really connect and there is no substitute for this.

Elizabeth isn’t the only autistic person whose difficulties include being unable to pass and receive these packets of emotional information back and forth during social interaction. This is one disadvantage that some (definitely not all) autistic businesspeople may have to realise and mitigate against. In Aspiedent’s case, I do most of the social interaction and networking.

So, apart from the occasional Zoom fatigue and the lack of emotional interaction, I am currently trying to make the most out of Zoom calls. However, I will be one of the first people to turn up to a face to face meeting or accept an invite to somebody else’s office in person!

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