Asynchronous communications are a wonderful thing for productivity. But they do have a dark side: the all-too-common, never ending comment thread.
Emails and message boards are where they’re commonly seen. It usually goes something like this:
Dan: “I think we should try this.”
<5 seconds later>
Julie: “I’m not sure that’ll work.”
<5 seconds later>
Tom: “Maybe this is another option.”
<50 more comments pile on within 5 minutes>
I know this because I’m guilty of adding to the comment pile too. 😬
It’s not surprising that this occurs. This kind of rapid-fire back and forth feels good. It feels like we’re getting a lot done and having a rich discussion. The problem is that we aren’t, really.
In these kinds of exchanges, nobody is listening. Everyone is so eager to give their opinion that they’re too busy typing without reading. We’re talking past each other, not to each other.
So let me offer three tips to improve these kinds of discussions — things I try to remind myself to do everyday.
And when I say read, I mean read. I don’t mean skim, I don’t mean “get the gist”.
Really read what someone wrote and try to understand it. And if you don’t understand it, ask questions instead of giving an opinion.
This will be difficult because it runs counter to what we’ve become used to — immediate everything.
But I implore you to try it. Read a comment and then leave for a while. Let your brain background process and actually think about it. Come back an hour later and respond.
This accomplishes a bunch of things:
- It helps you formulate a complete thought instead of a one line, off-the-cuff response.
- It sets a positive, slow-response precedent for others. The more people who learn to read and respond thoughtfully there are, the better off your team will be.
- It has a cascading positive effect by cutting noise. Specifically it gives people who don’t read comments 24/7 a fighting chance to keep up without being flooded with half-baked thoughts.
- It gives the discussion a chance to resolve itself. You’d be surprised how many times a discussion can go in a positive direction without your input.
- It let’s you focus on other, more important work!
If all else fails and the comment thread still spins out of control, you’re using the wrong tool. You’ve taken something inherently slow and are using it way too fast.
If that happens, switch tools. If you’re on a message thread, move up to a chat. If after 10 minutes the chat is falling apart, escalate to a Hangout.
Bottom line — it’s important to recognize the speed of your conversation and match up to the right tool for the job.
That’s it. Three simple things: read, wait, and (if necessary) switch tools. Keeping those tips in mind will make for a calmer, more pleasant workplace in 2017! 😀
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