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Two people using a paper cup phone to attempt to communicate, but unsuccessfully.

A short story about synchronous communication

A couple of months after we got started building With, my co-founder Laurent and I found ourselves in a vigorous discussion on Telegram. After a long day he suggested that we should just get in a With room and talk it out, but I persisted in trying to hash it out in text messages. The more I typed, the more frustrated and anxious I grew. Terse phrasing led to misunderstanding. Contention rose. It was exhausting. And in the end — nearly ninety minutes later — I realized there really wasn’t a disagreement after all. The lack of tone, humor, and non-verbal queues of a real time conversation made it feel that way. Ten minutes in a regular conversation was all we really needed.

The kind of delayed, asynchronous interaction that caused this difficult conversation lies at the heart of many of today’s team tools like Slack, Gmail, and Telegram. These tools are good complements to team workflows but they were not designed to provide the kind of high-bandwidth, core interactions that are imperative to the success of high performing teams. We need synchronous communication to achieve greatness together.

Communication is much more than just the words we say. The qualities of a person’s voice like intonation, pitch, timbre, rhythm, and tempo, combined with our facial expressions and body language, impart meaning beyond the uttered words. The way we think and process when talking is different than when writing. Sarcasm, irony, satire; suggestion, recommendation, command; their nuances are critical to truly understanding meaning and intent.

Contentious discussion like the one between Laurent and myself occur everyday, in every team setting around the world. The cumulative negative productivity impact of eschewing real-time synchronous conversations is devastating. Synchronous communication is the best way to conduct one-on-ones, stand-ups, rapid responses, war rooms, workshops, brainstorms, happy hours, and most importantly, the serendipitous conversations that build the kind of trust and camaraderie that produce high performing, happy teams.

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