Abuses of Asynchronous Communication Methods
September 8, 2019
Author: Bianca Yang
Synchronous communication methods:
- Telephone calls
- Meeting in person
- Video calls
Asynchronous communication methods:
- Text messaging (FB Messenger, Google Hangouts)
- Push notifications
How synchronous communication works:
- A calls B. B picks up and they chat for X minutes.
- A walks by B’s desk. A calls B into his office. They chat for X minutes.
How asynchronous communication works (bad but it is the state of the world):
- A sends B a text. B gets a notification for it. B has notifications on all the time because he feels that it’s important not to miss out on every (meme) text he gets from friends and thus responds immediately. If he doesn’t respond immediately or, worse, does the infamous “left on read”, he is reprimanded for his behavior by A at their next in-person meeting.
- A sends B an email. B is a conscientious human being and likes to be known for fast responses, so he has Superhuman and notifications for everything on. Thus, B responds immediately. B’s email quality is sometimes bad because of how rushed he is to get to Inbox Zero and stay on top of everything so he adds a “sent from my iPhone, pardon typos” note to his signature. Of course B sends email on his phone. Who can afford to not have email on their phone and be connected all day long?
- A sends B a slack message “Hey @B”. B gets a push notification because, again, B is a hard worker and doesn’t want to seem like he’s slacking (on Slack, ha ha, get it?) on his work communication duties. So B responds immediately.
Why the current state of asynchronous communication is nonsense and actively destructive:
- First, please acknowledge that most people’s smartphone behavior would fit the descriptions on the WebMD Drug Addiction page. Just replace “drug” with “phone” and laugh miserably at our / your plight. (Remember when WebMD was just as disreputable and jank and memeable as Wikipedia was?)
- Second, realize that async communication is meant to not be in real-time. That means that you can
- It means that you’re in control of your time and that you have plenty of opportunity to get into your productivity zone.
- Push notifications hijack your attention mechanism and often come from apps that are engineered to be habit-forming, even addictive. For every second you you take to context switch, you have to take multiples more seconds to recover and get back to your original task. Facebook, IG, Twitter, Slack, etc, are designed to get you to use them more because MAU, DAU, daily usage time, etc are all “success” metrics for these companies. Stop letting them set up camp in your mind.
How we all should be using async communication tools:
- Send thoughtful messages and understand that people will get to them when they get to them. In the meantime, don’t you have other things to work on?
- Turn off your notifications and be strict about not checking apps at all hours of day. Maybe once before work, once during lunch, once after work. The rest can wait.
- Use the tools properly and you will reap more out of them. You will also be less in pain from improper use of your tools.
- If you need to talk to someone right now, take deep breaths and figure out your real priorities.
How to prevent sync comms from encroaching on your time:
Big flipping pet peeve from async communication abusers:
- When people message me and expect an immediate response…
- “Hey, Bianca, do you want anything from the grocery store? I’m there rn”
- “Hey, Bianca, can you send me a picture of that thing on my desk? I need it for my meeting in 5 min”
- “Hey, Bianca, we’re having a meeting in 2 minutes. Can you join us?”
- “Hey, Bianca, there is literally a party going on right now in your cubicle. Bring us some beer?”
Thanks for reading. Catch up with me over email, thank you.