Communication Anti-Patterns

Let’s get this out of the way: Yes, I’m old and grumpy. I have more than a few “get off my lawn!” moments. But sometimes… sometimes, they’re justified. Especially when confronted with some of the common communication anti-patterns I run into day after day when working with distributed communities/workers. Here’s a few things you shouldn’t do, or stop doing if you do them.

  • “May I ask you a question/send you a PM?” If you have to ask, the answer is no. Just ask your question rather than faffing about with a lead-in to get my permission to ask a question. Do you really think I’m going to say no? Is no really a valid answer? Stop wasting time.
  • “Ping?” Stop [naked pings][1]. Really, just stop. If you have a question or statement to convey in IRC, IM, Slack, or any other asynchronous communication method **then just send it** and stop with trying to verify that I’m sitting and waiting in real time to respond. I’ve been guilty of this myself, and I’m trying to stop. Note that my tolerance for this anti-pattern is directly related to how well I know someone. If I work with you directly every day and a ping is meant to start a longer discussion it’s generally OK if not optimal. If I’ve never interacted with you before and it’s a prelude to asking me for something, it’s deeply annoying. State your case up-front. Note: if I’m not around in IRC, which is often, then learn to live with delayed gratification and send an email.
  • **Send everything I need to answer your request in the first damn email.** If you are looking for an answer to a question, like “can you sponsor my conference?” or “can you reimburse this expense?” then submit all the relevant information in the first email. Like, how big is the conference, what are the sponsorship options, and **how much** are you looking for? When is it? If you are looking to be reimbursed, telling me **how much** in the first email and attaching receipts is recommended. Stop making me ask for information that ought to be obvious will be needed to complete your request.
  • If you’re forwarding something, **make it clear what action(s) you are hoping for**. Don’t just forward someone an email and hope they’ll sort out what you hope they’ll do after receiving it. (If it’s obvious from the email or previous communication, then that’s fine.) If it’s an FYI, say so. If you’re hoping for an answer to a question that the email has background information on, then state the question. Etc. It’s like 20 extra seconds to type a few extra words that state the nature of the request, so please take the time and save people annoyance.
  • Do not send an email and then pester someone via IRC/IM/Slack/text (or, for the love of God, phone) about their response to said email for non-urgent matters in less than 48 hours after it’s been sent. This goes triple if you’ve received a vacation/out of office notice. If something is truly urgent and you’ve forwarded information by email and then follow up in real time, that’s fine. Note that “truly urgent” doesn’t mean “I’m really impatient and want a response even though strictly speaking it’s not necessary.” It means “if I don’t follow up in real time we might miss a deadline or someone will die a horrible death.”

These are minor sins of communication, and most (if not all) of us commit them from time to time. But, just as a reminder, these are things at folks should generally avoid and the world would be much more pleasant if these guidelines were observed with greater frequency.

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