There is No Substitute for Human Connection

–Or, "Don't expect email to build trust"

One of my clients started experimenting with responding to customer requests. His customers were co-workers —people internal to the company. He was getting annoyed and impatient with their requests. He wanted to change that.

To his credit, he knew the annoyance came from his customers not understanding what they were asking. He’d have to exert the effort to explain the situation, deny the request, or whatever. He got the same types of questions repeatedly, even if they were from different people.

Taking a step back.

When he realized people were not getting up in the morning plotting ways to annoy him, he took the situation into his own hands to reduce his annoyance. He got an unexpected benefit in the process.

Whenever he received an email that made him sigh or roll his eyes he chose instead to pick up the phone. He would even go visit the person in person if possible.

In our coach/client relationship he learned about taking a coaching approach. He started asking better questions to draw people out. He’d get at what was really on their minds. He now had more productive discussions. He soon found that this approach put him in good stead with his customers.

A different approach pays off.

With a more personal touch, he learned more about their situations. He read their needs better now. Instead of just shooting off an email, he took a little extra effort to get to know them. They, in turn, got to know him better and what his group was capable of. They started asking better questions and making more reasonable and productive requests.

He modeled this approach to his team. They all started taking a more personal approach. His group was soon able to meet their customers’ true needs, and sooner.

When the time came for customers to decide between his group and other options to meet their service needs, they requested my client’s group. The demand for his group grew so much over time; he was able to justify four more positions.

Now, from a big-picture business perspective, you might say creating overhead is not the goal. At the same time, it depends on the cost and quality of service.

There is no substitute for a human touch.

My client learned an invaluable lesson as a leader. Whenever possible, take the opportunity to make a deposit into that repository of trust with people who count on you. You could say he led his customers to a more productive use of everyone’s time. He did himself a great favor by finding his way to a more satisfying work experience. And he modeled a way of working to his team that will serve them always.

A version of this post originally ran on the Lead Change Group site August 27, 2011.

Mary Schaefer
Mary is a fierce advocate for developing workplaces where the human beings who happen to be employees, thrive. Her speaking, coaching, training, and writing all focus on making the most of what human beings can contribute to an organization through their distinctive energy and creativity, while at the same time meeting their own specific needs for meaningful work. As the principal of her own business, Mary is a guide to increase empowerment and cultivate productive manager/employee interactions. Drawing from her experience as an HR manager, her work centers on talent development, performance management, and a positive employee experience. She is a co-author of the book, "The Character Based Leader." Mary has presented at the Inspiring Women in STEM Conference and is also a TEDx speaker. Her clients include small businesses, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and Fortune 500 companies. Mary has a master's degree in human resources management and is a certified HR professional. This Midwest farmer's daughter is a big fan of homegrown cantaloupes, gapingvoid art, and LinkedIn.
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Joel Elveson
Joel Elveson

May, unquestionably there is no substitute for the human touch in business or family life. In business sometimes you cannot simply drop everything or pick up the phone. As much as we would like to have a more human relationship with our clients as I mentioned before sometimes it is not possible or it could be the nature of the business demands speed and instantaneous responses in which case phone calls or visits are impossible.

Laura Mikolaitis
Laura Mikolaitis

Mary, I enjoyed reading this article. I believe we can always find a way to make our interactions have more of a human connection. For example, I try to start an email with a more personal greeting and then segway into the heart of the matter — something like asking how their weekend was or wishing them a good start to the week. I feel like it sets a better tone and opens the door to a more cordial and productive conversation. It doesn’t replace being able to have face to face, but when that isn’t an option, there are ways to infuse that kind of interaction still.

I think digitization has made us more robotic, and we forget that there is a person on the other end. I also find that people are so busy in and out of meetings that it is hard to get that face time – even if it is only five minutes. Reframing how we think and interact can help, however. Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us – good food for thought today.


Mary, as always you provide a clear, welcome and deeply thoughtful perspective on how essential it is for us to bring our humanity into the workplace and consciously cultivate meaningful, supportive relationships. This story helps us see that kindness and caring are not mere options we might choose if we think we have the time on our way to getting results; they are the means to our best and most satisfying results. Beautifully done!

Mike Pitocco
Mike Pitocco

We live in a culture in which the most technoligically connected people are the most lonely……we’re losing the ability – the art – of real communication. I’ve learned (the hard way) to NEVER send an email/text unless I am only reporting factual, straight-forward information, when there is no chance for remarks to be misinterpreted. We miss so much when voice inflexion and tone are absent from our conversations. Kudos to your client. I’m sure he was rewarded on a personal as well as a business level. Thanks for sharing.



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