[ Question ]

How to make people appreciate asynchronous written communication more?

by konrad1 min read10th Mar 20219 comments

17

Cooperation and coordinationPersonal DevelopmentDiscussion norms
Frontpage

I don't like to have e.g. a walking meeting for a discussion that I would like to be able to reference later. Memory is way too lossy of a format to rely on. Yet people just feel better about in-person meetings, phone calls etc. - where means of recording are usually medium, unless you literally record the audio. This is the case even in situations where the relationship is well-established, friendly and interaction repeating - so with little reason to worry about misunderstandings or personal offenses taken.

It's costly to the collective because it stifles coordination, especially if it's not just a 1-1 relationship but exchange has to include 3+ people across various media.

Is this really just because meetings make people feel better? How malleable is this preference?

Does waiting on answers make them anxious otherwise? And people just haven't learned to deal with notifications sustainably? 

Or are people (unconsciously) so much into ambiguity that they prefer all parties involved to have altered memories of statements within minutes? Allows more room for political manoeuvres or reinterpretation in a way that is less costly to the individual?

Or is this purely cultural? 

Am I underestimating the barrier that writing poses to many? 

Who's writing about/researching this?

New Answer
Ask Related Question
New Comment

2 Answers

Writing is just a lot more time-consuming to cover equivalent ground in my experience. I occasionally make the mistake of getting into multi-hour text conversations with people, and almost invariably look back and think we could have covered the same ground in a phone call lasting <25% as long.

I agree with this, especially if you're trying to make a decision or solve a problem together. It's very difficult and time-consuming to negotiate solutions via text.

Yeah, agreed that your conclusion applies to the majority of interactions from a 1-off perspective.

But I observe a decent amount of cases where it would be good to have literal documentation of statements, take-aways etc. because otherwise, you'll have to have many more phone calls.

I'm especially thinking of co-working and other mutually agreed upon mid- to long-term coordination scenarios. In order to do collective world-modelling better, i.e. to find cruxes, prioritize, research, introspect, etc., it seems good to have more bandwidth AND more memory. But... (read more)

6BrianTan2moHaving an updates document that people fill in every week might be useful for you to either replace or complement your meetings? Alternatively, an agenda doc per meeting where you can transcribe whatever the other people say helps solve the problem of not being able to remember or document what other people say. I also record a few of the meetings I'm in, especially important ones (with the other person/s' permission of course), in case I want to revisit them in the future.
1konrad2moThanks, I have this wherever possible. Strong upvote for the practical usefulness of the comment. There are cases, though, where the core problem is not the ability to record but the lack of appreciation of the value of making things explicit and documenting them as such. Then I can one-sidedly record all I want, it won't shape my environment in the way I want to. That's why I'm asking about the appreciation aspect in particular. I think there are a lot of gains from attitudes that are common in EA that are just lost in many other circles because people don't have the same commitment to growth. This is especially the case when you alone can't do much but need a whole group to buy into this attitude. That's also why I'm less interested in meetings that are clearly only limited to 1-1 exchange. There are settings where you need to asynchronously update multiple people and having explicit communication would be much better, yet people seem to have a clear preference for 1-1 calls etc. I'm also not talking about situations where you can impose your norms - but rather about situations where you have to figure out carefully how to go meta while avoiding triggering any individual's defensiveness to then level up the group as a whole. Essentially, I guess, I'm interested in case studies for what pieces are missing in people's models that this seems so hard for many groups outside of EA. The answers here have already given some insight into it.

Speaking from personal experience, I believe some of it has to do with the perceived loss of optionality we experience when "documenting" (writing down) our current thinking. People tend to feel committed to, and accountable for, information or opinions captured in writing, which can be uncomfortable or anxiety-inducing when any amount of uncertainty or importance is involved (it's not fun to have proof you were wrong). I agree with the other comments that in-person meetings or phone calls save time in coordinating groups and reaching consensus, but it also allows people to qualify and clarify thinking as they go, resulting in what feels like a smooth evolution of thinking as opposed to the seemingly discontinuous and inelegant show of changing your mind after being corrected or learning new information via asynchronous communication. I think you make a good point about the interpretive freedom in-person meetings provide. I bet this type of research is being done by business or management consultants, who are always trying to find ways to improve coordination make people more productive in groups.

it also allows people to qualify and clarify thinking as they go, resulting in what feels like a smooth evolution of thinking as opposed to the seemingly discontinuous and inelegant show of changing your mind after being corrected or learning new information via asynchronous communication.

This gets exactly to the core of the potential I see: groups get stuck in a local equilibrium where progress happens and everybody is content but the payoff from going meta and improving self-knowledge and transparency would compound over time - and that seems to be easie... (read more)

2 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 9:21 AM

What is wrong with recording the audio?

I had this reaction as well. Can't speak for OP, but one issue with this is that audio is harder to look back at than writing; harder to skim when you're just looking for that one thing you think was said but you want to be sure. One solution here would be transcription, which could probably be automated because it wouldn't have to be perfect, just good enough to be able to skim to the part of the audio you're looking for.