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Conversation Mitigators

jbranchaud profile image Josh Branchaud ・3 min read

Twenty minutes of back and forth on Slack will save you from having a 2-minute in-person conversation.

You've probably heard some version of that. It is kinda meant in jest, but it often reflects the reality of some of our conversations. There is some missing context or miscommunication or distraction that turns what we thought was a simple question into a long, drawn out exchange.

As I alluded to, sometimes we are better off arranging a quick in-person chat to dispel the confusion and get at the core of the question. Really, try this the next time you see a Slack conversation spinning out of control.

An in-person chat isn't always possible, even with tools like Zoom. Sometimes it is not desirable either. So, are there other ways to dispel confusion and preempt the seemingly inevitable back and forth?

There are a number of Conversation Mitigators that can help when async communication is still necessary.

Compose an email

The first conversation mitigator is right in front of your nose. What did we use before Slack, Hipchat, and the rest? Email.

"Writing solidifies, chat dissolves. Substantial decisions start and end with an exchange of complete thoughts, not one-line-at-a-time jousts. If it's important, critical, or fundamental, write it up, don't chat it down."
-Basecamp, How We Communicate

Email does a couple things for you.

First, the act of composing the email forces you to solidify your thoughts in a way that generally doesn't happen when you start typing in the Slack prompt. Even if you don't send the email, you've already clarified your own understanding of the topic at hand. You could go on to paste your email-drafted message into Slack or roll over to that person's desk and you'd already be ahead.

Second, when you follow through on sending that well-thought-out message as an email, you are encouraging others to respond in an equally thoughtful manner. Furthermore, email comes with a reduced sense of urgency than the real-time chat platforms. Many conversation are less urgent than we might want to think they are. When our recipients don't feel rushed to respond, they will ditch some of the bad habits that lead to those hair-pulling miscommunications.

A picture can avoid a thousand words

Whoever you are talking to simply doesn't have the context you have. They aren't looking at the same screen seeing the same thing. So while it might feel obvious to you, your recipients are at best starting with a blank slate. Jump start the conversation with a screenshot that sets the context for your question.

"A good screenshot can preempt a variety of questions and ultimately cuts down on some of the back and forth."
-Josh Branchaud, 6 Tips for Better Communication with a Client

There are a lot of tools out there that allow you to markup a screenshot with text, boxes, and arrows. I'm on a Mac which comes with the Preview app which has this built-in. Skitch is another popular option.

Show, don't tell

If a still-image screenshot is good, then a moving-picture gif is better. You can convey a lot of information by quickly putting together a gif.
-Josh Branchaud, 6 Tips for Better Communication with a Client

A GIF or a video are both great ways to capture a fuller picture. Rather than trying to describe some series of events in a preamble to your question, hoping your recipients will stick with you the whole way, show them visually. Again, there is so much you can do in terms of context-setting here to avoid a whole path of misunderstanding.

I love making GIFs for this purpose using Gifox for Mac. It is well-worth the $15. For videos, I just use the built-in video capture for my operating system.

Conclusion

Communication is one of the truly hard parts of writing software and building products. Use conversation mitigators like email, screenshots, GIFs, and videos to get your team's communication really flowing.

What are other conversation mitigators that you've found useful?

Discussion

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