Rediscovering the Lost Art of Communication | by Chip Cooke

Everyone knows that the outbreak of Covid-19 was rough, and just like the yearly seasonal flu, it is probably here to stay. We also remember the hardships of our first response to the virus; stay away from others, mask up, stay home from school, and more personally for me, stay away from the office.

I never did.

There were many reasons for that decision. First, TMA qualified under all of the appropriate categories for a necessary ongoing business, important to the support and welfare of our industry. Second, it just didn’t feel right to leave the ship rudderless. However, after four long years of Covid and post-Covid, we are seeing effects across the board on business practices and the way in which we interact with others.

When someone asks me the most important skill in business to attain, I always come back with the same answer. You may immediately jump to the premature conclusion that it might be finance, organizational behavior, accounting, or marketing. Yes, these are all courses I took in business school, but are by no means, in my opinion, the most important. Do you need skill sets? Of course you do; but these are all tactical – somewhat similar to knowing the best way to refinish a kitchen. For me, there is an overarching skill that trumps everything tactical. Communication.

Communication, for me, is what holds your life together. It encompasses how you talk to your spouse or partner, your children, your friends, and those with whom you come in contact with on a daily basis. In business it comes to three main areas. How well do I communicate with my coworkers?  How well do I communicate with my clients?  How well do I communicate with my business partners?

With coworkers, clear and direct communication is paramount because you don’t always get that with a phone call or email. What are my needs and expectations? What are their concerns and opportunities?

With clients, what is the value proposition of my company and how is that best delivered to each? Do they have unmet goals or timetables that may be in jeopardy? Are we doing a good job, and more importantly, what can we be doing better?

For business partners, whether that be legal, accounting, suppliers, and the like – how can they assist TMA in making the experience better for both our coworkers and clients?

Before the pandemic, this wasn’t an issue. Face-to-face conversations and in-office meetings were the normal way of things. Why does that matter? Being across the table from someone shows that you are willing to take the time to sit and understand an issue, concern, or opportunity. You are able to read body language. Does my counterpart look engaged, confused, irritated, or just plain bored? Subtle gestures help guide the conversation, something online and phone calls fail to deliver. Face-to-face establishes trust and the ability to get to really know the person.

This leads to the very controversial, but somewhat new phenomenon of in-office versus at-home participation in the workplace. As I write this, the pendulum is swinging back to an in-office normal. Major companies such as Amazon, BlackRock, J.P. Morgan, and Disney are requiring their employees to return to the office environment. One statistic I read noted that 90% of companies would be back in the office by the end of 2024. That number is not insignificant in the least. It shows that management sees the inherent benefits of face-to-face collaboration.

Why, particularly, do I promote this work environment? I want to see you and say hello in the morning and goodbye in the afternoon. I want to be able to walk down the hall or upstairs to have an impromptu conversation without setting up a Microsoft Teams meeting. I want to bump into you in the breakroom and find out how your weekend was – maybe hear about how your kids are doing, or if you have any concerns for me to address. I love seeing groups in our boardrooms huddled over coffee and laptops making the best solutions possible for our clients.

Ultimately each company and client will make their own decision on the path they would like to take, but the data definitely shows that most are swinging back to in-person.

In conclusion, as we navigate the ever-changing landscape of post-pandemic work environments, one fundamental truth remains clear: effective communication is the cornerstone of success in both personal and professional spheres. Whether interacting with coworkers, clients, or business partners, the ability to convey ideas clearly and empathetically fosters trust, understanding, and meaningful collaboration.

While the recent shift towards remote work has its advantages, the resurgence of in-person interactions highlights the irreplaceable value of face-to-face communication. As we embrace this new era, let us remember that innovation thrives on connection, and it is through genuine human interactions that we can truly unlock our collective potential.