Communication Is a Two Way Street… Or Is It?

“Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication.”
~ Marshall McLuhan

In other words, the medium matters. HOW you communicate is just as important as WHAT you communicate.

By definition, most people think of communication as being synchronous. That is, communication that occurs in real time, such as when one person speaks while one or more others listen and then someone else responds. A good example in the world of work is a meeting, where multiple people work together, at the same time, though not necessarily in the same place.

So what is asynchronous communication?

This is where information is communicated but there is a time lag between participant responses. It’s not real time, so a good example of this would be any form of digital communication, such as texting or email.

Synchronous communication has the advantage of being explorative

You can spend time with other people, discussing an issue and that discussion can lead to a better understanding of the topic or a decision being made. It’s in the immediate, so you’re not waiting for someone to respond to an email.

Asynchronous communication has advantages too

  • Contemplation allows for fuller thoughts and ideas to be expressed;
  • Information provided can be internalized more effectively;
  • A record of the communication is always available, vs. verbal communication;

What style of communication works in business?

From the perspective of the sharing of information in a business environment, synchronous and asynchronous communication both have their uses and advantages. Emails going back and forth aren’t always efficient, but then again face to face meetings aren’t always possible, particularly when team members are not in the same place. Remote meetings can still be synchronous, if held in a video conference or teleconference however, there is one complicating factor in this world economy that we now live and work in: time zones.

Dealing with time zones in communication

Working with team members who operate in a different time zone does not mean the end of all synchronous communication! It does requires a little more planning, however.

Knowing everyone’s work hours within their own time zone, a good meeting planner will then convert those to their own time zone to see where there is overlap. All asynchronous communication can take place outside of that overlap zone, but any meetings that require real time discussion or collaboration need to be planned within the overlapping hours. This can be an adjustment for some, who might find that because of their location, meetings always happen during lunch, but it avoids a few meeting pitfalls:

  1. It respects the personal time of ALL team members by not booking calls or video conferences during someone’s down time due simply to their location. This will garner more interest in the topic / meeting for everyone.
  2. It clearly demonstrates that all voices are valued. If you’ve been invited to the meeting and a time is chosen that is suitable for EVERYONE, you know others want to hear what you have to say. This ensures that participants are paying attention instead of multitasking their way through the meeting.

So in the end, communication IS always a two way street… whether synchronous or asynchronous. There are times, occasions and places where one is better than the other but ultimately, they are both integral to solid communication and meeting strategies within an organization.