Effective Async Communication

Last night I read a great thread by Cindy Alvarez on twitter about effective communication at work. I’m reproducing it here, mostly so I can find it later, b/c I don’t trust tweets to stay around. You should go read it over on her timeline and give her some likes and retweets.

1/ Someone asked me for advice on effective async communication. Like any other project or skill, it’s useful to work backwards. What’s the desired outcome? How do we get there?

2/ What’s the desired outcome of async communication? That the audience should read your message and know what to do next (and do it, ideally)

3/ First they need to know if this message is: - High priority / people are blocked until I do something - I need to answer this question - I need to confirm/approve something - There’s an action I need to take - Confirmation that something happened - Details / FYI

4/ How do you achieve that in your async communications? I’ve got specific tips, but first a mindset: Start by forgetting about politeness. (Not permanently. Don’t be a jerk. But start there.)

5/ Most business communication is terrible and we model off what we’ve seen. Plus, we’re worried about making a good impression on our manager / that coworker we’ve never met. So we start with a lot of fluff. Cut it.

6/ Think about how you’d get your point across if you were blunt and demanding. “I need you to finish that doc today because no one else can work until you answer the open questions and we have an end of week deadline!” OK, great. That is very clear. Don’t send it though.

7/ Now add politeness back in. - Keep ‘what you need’ at the start - Explain the “why” in terms of outcomes - Reduce friction (include links, use bolding, etc.) - Acknowledge any possible/known complications - Include emoji/gifs as appropriate - Thank generously at end

8/ For example, this would work for my workplace (not all!): By EOD today: please answer the open questions in doc (linked). We’re blocked until we have your answers. I know your schedule has been crazy; let me know how I can help. Thanks so much! We appreciate it. ❤️

9/ A general tip that DOES work for all: whatever you’ve written, read it out loud. Does it make sense? Did you have to pause for breath in the middle of a sentence? (If so, it’s too long.). Did you start with a bunch of warm-up chat? (If so, cut or move to the end)

10/ After you’ve written, read it out loud, (and then hopefully edited), then: - add tl;dr summary at top - Question: repeat it here - Call to action: link it here - Due dates: put them here - One line summary here and below, in the details, bold judiciously.

11/ Also - friendly chatter, getting to know people, building trust - all of that is wonderful and necessary! And also: if you make time to do that separate from looming deadlines and questions you need answered and work you’re asking people to do, everything gets easier.

12/ A final thing - we often say “please do X task” when we want outcome Y. It’s usually worthwhile to over-communicate a bit and mention both. Outcome is usually more important, but if you only talk about outcomes that can be too abstract for your audience.

13/ For example: “Please do X task, to make sure that we get Y outcome” or “I want to make sure that we get Y outcome. One approach may be to do X, but I trust you to figure out how to get it done” depending on who you’re talking to / the situation.