First Impressions and Video

Just in case the last couple posts by Milton seem a little bleak or down on using video, I thought I’d briefly chime in and remind our readers that this is the creator of VSee talking, and that he is actually very pro-video!  That being said, it’s good to look at the details and not throw any babies out with the bathwater.

Let’s look at trust as discussed in the last post.  I’ve mentioned in multiple posts that video is as good at maintaining trust levels as a face-to-face conversation.  Bos, Gergle, Olson and Olson (2001); also Bos, Gergle, Olson, Olson and Wright (2002); and other studies (mostly including a Bos or Olson), have shown that video does indeed approach face-to-face for levels of trust.  Assuming their findings are correct, why does this appear at odds with Milton’s assertions in the last post?

First Impressions. It turns out they are not at odds at all.  Milton started the discussion with first impressions, which is a special case, although one encountered all the time.  Video may be able to reach nearly face-to-face levels of trust, but it takes more time to get there.  Unfortunately, as Milton reminds us, you don’t have more time to make that first impression.  And if it will take two or three video calls for a prospect to feel as cozy with you as they would within 30 seconds of meeting you in person…well, you won’t get that second or third call.

Negotiations and Disputes. Any communication where there is some level of antagonism, of “us” versus “them”, it is best dealt with face-to-face.  Video is preferable over other non-f2f communication for antagonistic discussion, but the immediacy of seeing body language and hearing tone of voice without lags, delays, and breaks, goes a long way to reaching agreement or, at the very least, reducing hostilities.

Which segues into a brief discussion of the pitfall of projecting technical difficulties onto the other party.  This was mentioned in “The Dark Side of Videoconferencing” briefly, but I want to clarify and emphasize the warning here.

In a fairly classic example of cognitive dissonance, most people intellectually know that a technical glitch in a videoconference has nothing to do with the speaker on the other end.  Nearly everyone also believes that because they know this, they will behave appropriately and make their judgments based purely on the discussion itself and not any technical difficulties.  However, as Reeves and Nass, Kitawaki et al., have shown, people regularly project their feelings of frustration onto the remote speaker.  Cues such as a lag in response are hardwired into us to believe someone is either slow or untrustworthy.  (If someone face-to-face took a half second to respond every time we spoke to them, we’d assume something was up.)  The intellectual understanding that the technical difficulties are not the speaker is not mutually exclusive to our very opposite emotional reaction to those difficulties.

There are tips and tricks for rapidly gaining trust prior to engaging in A/V communication, but they are irrelevant to the first impression.  (They all have to do with getting to know each other first, which obviously isn’t applicable.)  Likewise for defusing tense discussions.  So while video is an immensely valuable tool for remote work, sales, service, etc., remember to consider meeting face-to-face first for any key sales or negotiation.

After all, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

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