Don’t Sync Me, Bro

Are you a synchronous communicator? I’m not, I prefer asynchronous communication when it makes sense, because it is way more efficient. Let me explain what I mean by that. Synchronous communications requires both parties to be engaged simultaneously. The classic example is a phone call, or God forbid, a face to face conversation. Asynchronous communication does not require both sides to be engaged at the same time. A good example would be texting. While you CAN make texting synchronous if you go back and forth, it is not required. You might get a text message and read and/or respond to it hours later. Another example would be email.

The benefit of synchronous communication is that you get immediate confirmation that your message was received. If you have a time-critical message, or you really need to confirm your message has been received and understood, it may be best to pick up the phone. You COULD send a text message and see if you get a quick response; if you don’t, THEN pick up the phone. Another benefit: it’s way easier to communicate something complex by voice rather than try typing that in a message.

With asynchronous communication, you can send-and-move-on. You get the message out, it’s in writing so it’s hard to ignore/forget, and you spend very little time. If the receiver is tied up or unavailable, you figure they will get to it when they have the time. Perhaps the question is not easily answered, and the receiver needs to think about it or do some research. This is the most time efficient way to communicate. As we all know, terse written communication can be easily misunderstood, so you definitely need to consider that.

Chat software like Slack, HipChat, or Skype can fall in both categories, depending on how you use it. I do alot of remote work so I’ve used pretty much all the telecommunication software out there. Most can do video calling, or you can schedule a “meeting” in advance, both of which are clearly synchronous. You can also use them as pure chat and be asynchronous. You might be engaged in real-time (synchronous) with some folks, and later others may read the conversation and perhaps reply asynchronously.

OK, now to one of my pet peeves. I find it highly annoying when someone has a perfectly asynchronous message and use a perfectly asynchronous method to deliver it, and then they go make it synchronous! Here is what I mean: using Slack, a coworker texts you “Hey John”. And then nothing. Eventually you reply back “What’s up?”. Then, if they are still at their computer, they say “Did the package arrive today?”. Otherwise, if they are not at their computer anymore, you might not get that question for another hour or more, and they don’t get a quick answer.

What’s the big deal you ask? Oh boy, now you got me started! Well, in an ideal scenario, I’m at my computer with not much to do, maybe I’m surfing the web, and I get that message. Oh joy, something to do! I respond, I get the question, the coworker gets a yes or no, and all is well. Right, that NEVER happens to ME when I’m working. It’s more likely I am deeply concentrating on a programming issue and this interruption comes in. Then I think, is this going to be a long conversation? If so, I certainly don’t want to be disturbed right now. Even a short context switch can foul up a good programming zen. Maybe I’m in line at the coffee shop and away from my computer. I don’t really like to admit when I’m away from my desk : ) but if they ask me something that requires a computer look-up, I’ll be caught like a rat. This is someone trying to convert asynchronous to synchronous! Arrrrrggggh!

Now that I convinced you of this evil menace, how do you communicate properly you ask? It’s simple. Keep it async, bro. The proper way to send that message is “Hey John, did the package arrive today?”. If I see that, even while in a programming frenzy, I can quickly respond “yep” and keep on my merry way. (Yes, there are some people that once they know they have your attention, will follow up with something like “Great. How was your weekend?” and now you are trapped in synchronicity) If I’m at the coffee shop, I can quickly respond using my mobile app and it’s done.

If there is a more complicated message like “Hey John, do you think you can get me that estimate by the end of the day tomorrow?” then I can process that message, do a little research, determine the best response, and get back to them when I have a good answer like an hour later: “No problem, i just finished it”. So efficient, so asynchronous!

Please, don’t be that guy who sends me a “Hey John” chat message. You likely won’t get a quick response, just sayin.

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