Reply To All Snowball - Know When To Escalate Communication
I was chatting on IM to Jeff today and we were going back and forth and back and forth and it became ridiculous. Just pick up the phone.
IM is great, truly. I get to stay connected to all sorts of folks that I either wouldn't be able to call as often, or where a one-line "what's up" email would be a burden to them or a todo.
I find the little piece of "blue toast" that pops up to be very comforting in fact - "Ah, Carl's still out there. How nice."
However, I think it's important to Know When To Escalate the conversation to the Next Level, that might look like one of the following:
- IM to Phone
- Phone to Lunch (in Person)
- Email to In Person
- In the Cube to In a Meeting Room
How do you know when to take it to the Next Level?
- When an email thread goes by that is a "Reply to All Snowball," where folks not only continue to Reply to All, but they also CC: more and more people with each Reply to All...it's time to escalate the communication.
- When your hands start to hurt while typing an Instant Message...it's time to escalate the communication.
- When you actually get angry that you can't get your thoughts into an mail as fast as you can think...it's time to escalate the communication.
- When you can't say something nice in IM or email, escalate the communication and say it in person, or just let it go.
- If you use impersonal communication in an electronic format, it will almost always be a career limiting move. Check out Greg's Post on Communication Problem or Behavior Problem.
- When you've written an email so long that the scrollbar appears, it's time to escalate the communication. Seriously, no one is going to read that.
What kind of communications problems do you have?
Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.
It's a lot quicker to use the phone instead of back and forth typing.
Another type of escalation I'd like to see is IM to email, when the content is valuable enough that you don't want it to get lost; or if you feel like it is of future-reference quality. Even though most IM has "transcript" or "history" features, if you're texting something instructions to someone on how to do something non-trivial; or perhaps the terms and conditions you should be including with your product, etc.; it should be escalated to email instead of trying to copy and paste it into your IM window.
Also, another thing that gets me with email is when people type these 3-inch long paragraphs. Give your reader a break already. Whitespace lets people breathe!
It also tones down your message, which is especially helpful if you're building a case for an argument. Whitespace gives people time to think about your message. It also highlights the first few words of each smaller paragraph, which makes your message more effective.
Each point that's buried 3 or 4 sentences into a paragraph is often skimmed over completely.
I'd be rich.
I had a friend yesterday who I asked a simple question, "Where would you rank yourself on .NET on a scale of 1-10?" I also told him I would explain why I asked as soon as he answered. Instead of answering he made an assumption of what I was going to do with that data and went on about how he'd rather not play that game. Ultimately we spent 10 minutes going down a rabbit trail that should never have existed and only did because he made an assumption about my intentions.
As readers in IM/Chat we cannot make as many assumptions about the intent of the IM message. As writers we have to be more clear and thorough given the lack of verbal cues and context. Conversation in IM has to be more deliberate.
I used instant messengers back when I was in college and never quite saw the point in them (as with texting now). No more immediate than e-mail with the added bonus of somehow feeling even more instantly disposable? Why am I sending this in the first place?
Then again, I like to take my phone off the hook and turn off Outlook when I'm trying to develop because it takes so very little to knock me out of flow.
And there's no real way around that. You can't "recite the log messages" to someone over the phone and have that be effective. How many times have you said the words, "Can you send me the stack trace?" Why? Because that's not really something you can communicate verbally.
Maybe it's that most of my communications revolve around technical topics. I just don't think the "scrollbar rule" really applies. I think you can mitigate the email length issue by learning how to write and organize your thoughts properly. Put a summary at the top so people don't have to read the whole thing to get the basic idea about what you're saying, then put context later. Sort of the way they teach newspaper journalists to write - get the point across and add detail as you go, so if your article has to lose the last two paragraphs due to space constraints, it's fairly easy to rip them out and not lose the meaning of the story.
I always wonder why folks get upset when I have not read the email they sent thirty minutes earlier. The stock response is to say “I drive my day. My email does not drive my day.”
Top tip: turn off the email client during the working day and only check email at two or three defined slots in the day.
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A large number of the people that I know are heavy users of SMS. Personally, I don't even bother. It's not the cost, it's just that lots of people insist on having conversations using T9, and I'd just rather talk to them. I'm continually amazed at how many words can be crammed into 160 characters.
I generally escalate to a phone call any time an SMS is anything more than "the movie is at 7", or if it asks for a response. This greatly annoys the SMS crowd, but I just don't see the value in taking 5 minutes to have a 30 second conversation.