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Seven ways to better develop a relationship

Developing relationships with more than texting, friending, & online “connecting“

June 25, 2013
By Michael Houlihan


June 25, 2013, Forestville, CA – Technology has yielded some great communication tools, but as 
Michael Houlihan writes they are not relationship builders.

Forestville, CA — It’s official: e-mail, texting, and social media are
no longer just helpful supplemental business tools. They’ve taken over
the whole game. Yes, technology has made many aspects of modern living
more convenient and “connected,” but the pendulum has swung too far.

Now, people are reluctant to do something as simple as picking up the
phone, preferring to shoot off an e-mail instead. And face-to-face
meetings — well, they’re almost unheard of.

This “technology takeover” is not without consequence, says Michael
Houlihan. Misunderstandings abound. Relationships stagnate. Trust is at
an all-time low. And all of these issues are at least partially due to
the fact that genuine human connections have been replaced by
mouse-clicks and keystrokes.


“Social media and technology do have their place, but they are not, and
never will be, a substitute for in-person interaction,” confirms
Houlihan, co-author along with Bonnie Harvey of The Barefoot Spirit: How
Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America's #1 Wine Brand.

Having bootstrapped a business from the ground up, Houlihan knows what
he’s talking about. He and Harvey are the founders of Barefoot Cellars,
the company that transformed the image of American wine from staid and
unimaginative to fun, lighthearted, and hip. When they started their
company in the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse, they
knew almost nothing about winemaking or the wine business. The Barefoot
Spirit tells their California-style rags-to-riches story in compelling
and colorful fashion, and reveals just what it takes to succeed as an

“I can’t tell you how many retailers, suppliers, and potential
customers I visited in person during those early years,” Houlihan
admits. “What I can tell you is that I would have never gotten
satisfactory results if I had tried to build those relationships via
email and social media. The Barefoot brand would never have become a
national bestseller without meetings, phone calls, and recurring
personal visits that kept relationships all over the country healthy and

“People don’t just buy your product; they buy you,” he concludes.
Houlihan worries that young people’s dependence on virtual communication
has stunted the social skills they’ll need to attract customers.
Through no fault of their own, they have inherited a world that provides
a comfortable firewall insulating them from personal rejection—one in
which they simply don’t have to communicate in real time. (“Could you
learn to walk if you were handed a crutch at birth?” he asks.)

Of course, in a global economy, face-to-face meetings are expensive.
When clients, vendors, and even employees are on the other side of the
world, it’s not economically feasible to hop on a plane every time a
meeting is needed. In these cases, says Houlihan, Skype is the next best
thing to being there.

“Live video streams allow you to do just about everything short of
shaking hands,” he notes. “I have begun to use Skype frequently in my
own business dealings. I love that I can make eye contact with someone
who is sitting on the opposite side of the country. We accomplish so
much more when we become more than ‘just’ an email address or a
disembodied voice to one another!”

If you make the time necessary for personal meetings—if not in person,
then via Skype or, at the very least, on the phone—Houlihan says others
will not only remember you, but they will appreciate the effort you put
forth. Read on for seven specific advantages of real-time, in-person,
face-to-face relationship building:

The time investment shows you really care. It’s a fairly universal truth
that human beings want to be valued and appreciated. Spending time with
someone else, whether that’s in person, face-to-face on a computer
screen, or, if all else fails, via a phone call, is one of the best ways
to convey these things.

In essence, an investment of time says,
“While there are many other things I could be doing, I’m choosing to
spend my time with you. That’s how important I think you are!” Minutes
and hours spent with another person have the power to create a bond that
money can’t buy.

“When you spend time with others, you find out what you truly have in
common and you have an opportunity to share your opinions,” Houlihan
explains. “Plus, visiting someone repeatedly over a period of time can
also provide valuable non-verbal clues to his or her values and
concerns. In my own experience, I have been amazed by how helpful it can
be to travel with someone, whether it’s a colleague or client. On any
trip there will probably be instances that cause stress and anxiety,
which presents an opportunity for both of you to see how the other
handles a variety of situations and to learn to work together more

You’re better able to give personalized attention. According to
Houlihan, this is perhaps the biggest key to successful sales and the
establishment of any long-term relationship. Think about it: It’s hard
to multi-task on something unrelated when someone is physically planted
in front of you, demanding your attention. Unless you have no problem
with blatant rudeness, you’re focusing on the other person, responding
not only to what they say, but also to their mood, movements, and many
other non-verbal signals. You will read these signs and adjust your
behavior accordingly.

“Letters on a screen can’t compete with the personal touch,” Houlihan
assures. “In my experience, when you use someone’s name along with eye
contact and an attentive demeanor, they’re more likely to be agreeable
and to give you the benefit of the doubt. They know that your time is
valuable and that you chose to give it to them. The next time they see
you, they will be more relaxed and familiar in your company. And the
more visits you have, the more your relationship with that individual
strengthens. Trust me, people want to do business with people they know.
You can get to know them much better offscreen.”

You’re more effective in general. When you’re talking to someone else in
real time, you can make progress in real time and solve problems in
real time. (Believe it or not, lobbing emails back and forth isn’t
always the most efficient method!) Thanks to facial expressions, body
language, and tone of voice (see below for more information on each),
you’ll usually find out more than just the basics when you have a verbal
conversation. In fact, if you’re really observant, you may notice
things about the other company or clients that they themselves aren’t
even aware of!

“Always meet in person if you can,” Houlihan confirms. “When an
important client or critical team member is on the other side of the
globe, a face-to-face meeting once or twice a year can often be a smart
investment. The rest of the time, if your communication is anything
beyond a simple FYI, be sure to Skype or call.”

Facial expressions help get your message across… Did you know that the
human face has at least 20 muscles that work in concert to create a
myriad of telling facial expressions? When you put it that way, the
process sounds complex, but amazingly (as you know!) we don’t have to
consciously think about forming those expressions at all. This is a
powerful argument for face-to-face meetings, whether they’re in person
or via Skype.

“Observing those expressions during verbal communication can give you
instant feedback about how your message is being received,” Houlihan
points out. “You can quickly adjust your message on the spot to make it
more meaningful or agreeable, and avoid possible misunderstandings.
Facial expressions are also an invaluable way through which to express
sincerity, interest, curiosity, happiness, and more.”

…So does your body language…
Unlike looking at a posed profile shot or
any still image sent over email, being face-to-face with another person
gives you the opportunity to see the other person’s dynamic reaction and
make adjustments to your own message. Real-time body language provides
tons of non-verbal cues that are impossible to convey in a text or

“As humans and social animals, we are naturally wired to get this
feedback instantly,” Houlihan says. “We’re also equipped to share our
own feelings and attitudes through the way we stand, sit, gesture, and
more. It’s a good idea to spend a little time learning the basics of
body language. For instance, if you know that hands in one’s pockets
indicate boredom or disinterest whereas leaning slightly forward
indicates interest, you’ll be able to respond more accurately to others
and avoid sending messages you don’t mean to.”

…and so does your tonality. It’s happened to everyone: You send an email
that’s laced with sarcasm or humor…which the recipient totally fails to
pick up on. Oops! Now you’re left frantically doing damage control.
According to Houlihan, that’s one major reason why texting, emailing,
and friending can be great ways to communicate while failing to succeed
at relationship building.

“When spoken, the same words used in a text or email can have a very
different meaning based on the tone, inflection, and the emphasis that
the speaker gives,” he says. “It’s much easier to ‘get’ intentions
behind the spoken word. And if the other person sounds reluctant,
uncomfortable, or guarded, for instance, you can take advantage of the
opportunity to ask why and discuss ideas that might never have been
brought forward over email. So the next time you find your mouse
hovering over the ‘compose’ button, think about reaching for your phone

Your vulnerability shows (and that’s a good thing!). In the virtual
world, you can almost totally control the image you show to other
people. You choose the pictures you post on your profile. You censor the
information you do and don’t want to share in your messages, posts, and
updates. And usually, you can think about and edit what you want to say
before pressing “send.” But in a real-time, face-to-face relationship,
the other person can see you in 3-D and observe your dynamic,
spontaneous behavior, including tone of voice, expression, dress, and
body language. The other party sees your human imperfections and is
aware that you are vulnerable to potential personal rejection.

“Imperfections and vulnerability make you appear more believable and
sincere,” says Houlihan. “Most people will overlook minor foibles in
appearance and speech because you are literally there for them. It’s
special! This can be a big advantage in the long run. And in the short
run, you take precedence over all their virtual relationships.”

Despite his belief that people want in-person attention, Houlihan says
Barefoot didn’t avoid technology as it developed—far from it. What’s
important is to use these tools appropriately and not let them become

“A relationship can start through text, email, or social media; in fact,
I encourage entrepreneurs and other businesspeople to utilize those
resources,” he explains. “But in order to be lasting and dependable, a
relationship has to grow in person. Yes, developing your face-to-face
social skills will make you feel vulnerable at times. As is the case
with learning to walk, though, feeling vulnerable is why we get so good
at it.

“Like any skill, becoming personable takes practice,” he concludes. “A
good way to start is to eliminate virtual communication when in-person
communication is possible or more effective. So shake hands and come out
a winner! Remember, genuine, lasting, and dependable relationships take
time and physical presence. High touch beats high tech every time.”

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