5 Feb 2018

The challenges of synchronous communication

I have been advocating for and helping clients with the use of written decision records in contentious areas of decision making. However, it is a big change for people who prefer to discuss things verbally over a meeting (face to face or over a call). They claim that it is easy to misunderstand intent over a written medium and that doing it in writing would slow things down.

The book weighed in on this topic in the chapter on communications. An excerpt:
"However, the discussions leading to these decisions are often flawed when conducted verbally. This is due to various factors:
• Glib tongues talking others down.
• Relative seniors intimidating others by tone, impatience, patronizing comments, and nonverbal cues.
• The inability of non-native speakers of English to match the articulation of native speakers. They may lack fluency, vocabulary, or panache in English. Fumbling or pausing mid-sentence for a word or a phrase makes for a weak impression.
• Lack of time to reflect and counter an argument that sounds good superficially but feels flawed intuitively.
• Lack of time to collect one’s thoughts and answer a question effectively.
• Spur-of-the-moment emotional reactions to perceived slights."
Here's a great example of someone challenging your position in a meeting (an interview, in this case). The interviewee here does a great job of keeping his cool and responding precisely and logically to various strawman arguments from the interviewer. However, it is a tough act to follow and most contentious business meetings would end-up with a sub-optimal decision because of a failure to see through flawed arguments.

Spoken arguments require us to get it right the first time in real time. It’s like directly deploying software to production with minimal testing. It may be heroic, and those who pull it off regularly may be really sharp (like the interviewee in the video), but it doesn’t make business sense as a practice. On the other hand, written arguments by their very nature force a modicum of scrutiny and reflection (i.e., testing), even when they say “Sent from my smartphone” at the end.