"You're Not Gonna Believe This, But..."

We live in an increasingly interconnected world and it has become easier than ever to chat with just about anyone from just about anywhere. For freelance writers and other small business owners, this means that it is also easier than ever to connect with clients from all corners of the globe. We may have all sorts of newfangled technology at our fingertips, but the human connection is still at the heart of any business and you still have to discuss all the details that go along with all the projects that you do.

After an initial e-mail message or two, I have (potential) clients who ask if we can have a quick phone call. While that is certainly a reasonable request to make, I will say that talking on the phone — particularly for business — is my least favorite way of chatting with someone. Allow me to explain.

Human Memory Is Unreliable

As a freelance writer, I’m always juggling multiple projects from multiple clients and each of these projects will contain all sorts of instructions and finer details. That’s a lot to track, which is why it’s important to keep good notes. The problem when you’re discussing these details over the phone is that you either have to rely on your memory after the call concludes to jot down what you remember or you try to take notes along the way. If you choose the latter, you’re necessarily not as engaged in the conversation as you could be.

For my part, I typically prefer some form of text-based electronic communication. This serves a couple of important functions. First, you minimize any confusion, because the conversation is right there in black and white. Neither party can claim to “mishear” a word, number of statement. Second, the conversation is not only backed up, but in the case of something like Google Hangouts or web-based email, the dialogue is also easily searchable down the road. If there is ever any disagreement, I can search through the archive and find the exact date and time we discussed it, looking at the exact words that were said (or typed).

The Appeal of Asynchronous Communication

When you talk with someone on the phone, that is called synchronous communication. What that means is that your conversation is happening in real time and both parties have to be present at the same time. There are definite advantages to this, but it also has its pitfalls. I had arranged for a phone call with a potential client last week, but she never called at the pre-determined time. I wanted to make sure she could have my undivided attention, so I wasn’t actively working on anything while waiting for the call (that never came).

This is one of the reasons why I prefer what is called asynchronous communication. This is when a conversation can be conducted without both parties being present at the same time. Email is a great example of this. If I send you a message, you don’t have to reply right away. When you have time, you can send your response. This way, both of us can be working on our own schedules. And even though an instant messenger is designed for “instant” communication, it can also be used for asynchronous communication too.

As a result, everyone involved can be more productive overall. Rather than waiting for a call or devoting ourselves to a single conversation, we are free to work on other projects.

A Disembodied Interaction

Don’t get me wrong. Synchronous communication is definitely important, especially when you have subject matter that is very time-sensitive. I fully understand the need for phone calls under certain circumstances. That being said, I’ve always found voice calls to be a bit odd. You’re hearing the voice of the person, but you don’t see them. You can’t read their body language. You can’t do that either with email or IM, but they carry their own advantages.

For me, I’d rather go from one end to the other. I still prefer the asynchronous convenience of protocols like e-mail, but I find in-person meetings to be less awkward than phone conversations. Of course, this comes with some serious geographic restrictions, so it may not always be possible.

What are your thoughts on modern communication? Are you more technologically-inclined with instant messengers, private messages and e-mails? Would you rather pick up the phone and hammer out the details that way? What about video chats and video conferencing through services like Skype?