Blog by A. Michelle Jernigan
Nothing Can Replace the Face-to-Face
By A. Michelle Jernigan of Upchurch Watson White & Max
Years of litigation and mediation experience have confirmed what I already knew intuitively – that face-to-face communication is superior to every other form of communication. In our modern age, we rely heavily on technology to facilitate efficient communication. The fax machine replaced the hand delivered letter; email replaced the fax machine and the telephone. Now we utilize text messages, skype and videoconferencing as a means of saving time and money. Not too many years ago a litigation attorney could spend hours daily on the telephone talking with opposing counsel, adjusters, clients and experts. Most of that telephonic communication has been replaced by keyboards and electronic devices.
Why is face-to-face communication superior to other modes of communication? Most of us have heard the theory that 93 percent of communication is non-verbal. This generalization has been referenced for years but has recently been criticized for its limited applicability. American psychologist Albert Mehrabian originated the idea in his 1971 book, “Silent Messages,” for which he confined his observations to a specific type of communication in a specific context. Mehrabian concluded that 7 percent of communication was the spoken words, 38 percent was the tone of voice and 55 percent was the non-verbal cues. Pop psychology took this conclusion and generalized it to all forms of communication.
Whether or not Mehrabian’s conclusions are accurate, they do offer insight into our quest for why face-to-face communication is superior. The primary reason is biological. Have you ever noticed that when you are face-to-face with someone who smiles at you that you also have a tendency to smile? Why is that? It is because our brain has mirror neurons that respond to the visible actions or cues of others. Mirror neurons are a neurological mechanism that enables humans to “mirror” another’s experience. The body language of the speaker conversing with the listener causes the stimulation of mirror neurons in the listener’s brain so that the listener actually experiences the same neurological response that the speaker does. In concrete terms, if speakers “scratch their head, swat a fly, or wipe away a tear, the listeners’ brains experience similar neural activity as if they were taking that action.” The firing of the mirror neurons also sends signals to the emotional centers of the brain so that the listener can experience the same feelings as the speaker. It is this neural synchronization between the speaker and the listener that distinguishes face-to-face communication from all other types of communication. This neural synchronization is based on multimodal sensory information integration and turn-taking behavior during communication.
So, what are the implications of this in your personal and professional life? Given the recent recession, businesses have explored the return on investment with regard to in-person business meetings and the costs associated with them. A 2009 Forbes Insight study revealed that, “while many companies are turning to technology to provide an alternative to face-to-face meetings, an overwhelming majority of executives expressed a preference for face-to-face meetings…” In their article titled The Future of Meetings: The Case for Face-to-Face, Duffy and McEuen identified three business needs that cry out for face-to-face meetings: 1) To capture attention; 2) To inspire a positive emotional climate and 3) To build human networks and relationships.
When we examine these three needs in the context of our business as lawyers we can see the value in face-to-face meetings. We always prefer decision makers to be physically present during mediation. How often have you spoken with client representatives by phone and encountered the difficulties of keeping them focused on the issues at hand? Likewise, the power to persuade and build trust is enhanced by face-to-face communication. Lawyers are frequently engaged in the process of advocating positions and encouraging others to give those positions weight and credibility. Lawyers are in positions of trust with their clients, the general public, mediators, judges, arbitrators and even with opposing counsel.
As lawyers, we tend to sterilize human interactions. We focus on the facts and the law. However, our clients are people and people are complex, multi-dimensional beings. People comprise the social, political, emotional, spiritual, physical and intellectual. All of these facets of our humanity are in play as we encounter disputes and engage in decision making. Show me a dispute that contains no emotional component and I will show you a dispute that does not involve people! “The most compelling argument in favor of personal meetings is their ability to generate emotions in support of learning and collaboration.” Given this argument, does it not make sense to deal face-to-face in dispute resolution, client meetings, presentations, and even the marketing of legal services? There is also a tremendous benefit to having the opportunity to work face-to-face with opposing parties or lawyers for the purpose of gauging their receptivity to your suggestions and arguments and being able to adjust your communication and behavior in an attempt to influence them or to connect with them emotionally to build trust or affiliation.
I have heard it said that the fabric of life is relationships. That rings true with family, community and business. Lawyers are well aware that building a successful law practice is all about relationships. “Regular face-to-face meetings are critical to effective networking and relationship-building.” These face-to-face meetings allow an opportunity for individuals to be less formal, less structured and simply get to know one another. With the impact of mirror neurons, these interactions can promote positive emotion and increase the likelihood that the participants enjoy and like each other. After all, it is rewarding to do business with people you like and unrewarding to do business with people you don’t like.
As lawyers, we use multiple modes of communication. Each of those modes should be evaluated in the context of what we are seeking to accomplish. If we want to communicate facts and data, email is a great way to communicate. If we want to negotiate a settlement, we could pick up the phone and talk to the other attorney. Better yet, we could take them to lunch, get to know them and ascertain the best way to persuade them. If we want to “land” a client, we might try a more personal face-to-face approach. If we want to build trust, we want not only to meet face-to-face, but also to look that person in the eye. In summary, if we want to build trust, build relationships, persuade, sell, evoke positive emotions, encourage, or confront, there simply is no way to replace a face-to-face.
 Duffy C., & McEuen, M.B. (2010). The Future of Meetings: The case for face-to-face (Electronic article). Cornell Hospitality Industry Perspectives, 1 (6), 6-13.
 Id. at p. 10.
 Jiang, Dai, Peng, Zhu, Liu and Lu (November 7, 2012) Neural Synchronization during Face-to-Face Communication. Journal of Neuroscience, DOI:https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2926-12.2012. Turn-taking is a feature that has been shown to play a pivotal role in social interactions.
 Duffy C. & McEuen, M.B. (2010).
 Chang, M. (February 20, 2015) Why Face to Face Meetings are So Important, (Electronic Article) https://www.forbes.com/sites/ellevate/2015/02/20/why-face-to-face-meetings-are-so-important/#68c549b0aee9 and Bohns, V.K. (April 11, 2017) A Face-to-Face Request Is 34 Times more Successful than an Email, Harvard Business Review (Electronic article) https://hbr.org/2017/04/a-face-to-face-request-is-34-times-more-successful-than-an-email
 Duffy C., & McEuen, M.B. at p. 9.
 Duffy C., & McEuen, M.B. at p. 12.
Congratulations to the 2017-2018 CFAWL Board of Directors
President: Kimberly E. Hosley
President-Elect: Arti Hirani
Secretary: Jamie Billotte Moses
Treasurer: Megan W.L. Malec
Treasurer-Elect: Mary J. Walter
Membership Director: Celeste Thacker
Co-Membership Director: Heather Kolinsky
Programs Director: Conti Moore
Co-Programs Director: Kimberly Lorenz
FAWL Representative: Lauren Millcarek
OCBA Representative: Camy Schwam-Wilcox
Public Relations Director: Charity J. Tonelli
Co-Public Relations Director: Heather Meglino
Young Lawyers Director: Lorraine Pitre
Co-Young Lawyers Director: Hazel Gumera
Director-At-Large: CJ Bosco
Director-At-Large: Suzanne Gilbert
Congratulations to the 2016-2017 CFAWL Board of Directors Slate
President: Amanda D. Perry
President-Elect: Kimberly E. Hosley
Secretary: Arti Hirani
Treasurer: Kelli A. Murray
Treasurer-Elect: Megan W.L. Malec
Membership Director: Mary J. Walter
Co-Membership Director: Celeste Thacker
Programs Director: Charity Tonelli
Co-Programs Director: Lauren Millcarek
FAWL Representative: Jamie Billotte Moses
OCBA Representative: Lorraine Pitre
Public Relations Director: C.J. Bosco
Director-At-Large: Camy Schwam-Wilcox
Young Lawyers Director: Heather Meglino
The slate was published to the membership via email on March 29, 2016. The election of officers and directors shall take place at the Annual Meeting during our May Luncheon on Friday, May 6, 2016. Any Member desiring to run against a published slate must submit their name to the Nominating Committee Chair, Ashley Winship at email@example.com no later than 2:00 p.m., Tuesday, April 5, 2016. Where an office or position on the Board is contested, each candidate for that position shall have the opportunity to speak at the Annual Meeting regarding his or her qualifications for such office or position. Thereafter, the Officers and Board of Directors shall be elected by a majority vote of the Members present.
…has been appointed a member of the young professionals Key Initiative Board for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Florida.
…has joined Fisher & Phillips as an associate focusing on the representation of employers in employment discrimination and harassment, litigation of employment disputes, retaliation and wrongful termination, and wage and hour litigation.