This week President Barack Obama met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Rancho Mirage, CA for several days to discuss issues ranging from the impact of cybersecurity on international trade to the threat of a nuclear North Korea. The key takeaway is that summit meetings are productive because they are face-to-face.
Why do “in-person” meetings seem to be so much more productive? And why do we so often make the mistake of trying to resolve complex issues with an e-mail exchange?
In-person meetings – particularly when they involve travel – tend to be more productive because the stakes are higher. The inconvenience of travel focuses the mind and gives us time and motivation to be prepared. We want to accomplish something so that the trip and the meeting are not a waste of time.
E-mail has its own advantages (it’s cheap, it’s asynchronous, and it allows us to “make our pitch” without being interrupted). The chief problem with e-mail is that it’s not interactive. If the recipient isn’t buying what you’re selling, or has some objection, you can’t read their facial expression or other non-verbal cues. And before long, they tune out or move on. Also, busy people tend to leave unread e-mails in their inbox for hours (or days), which can be frustrating for someone trying to get a response.
All the technology in the world cannot replace the effectiveness of a good old fashioned sit down.