Slack as an Async Communication Protocol

Slack. Love it or hate it, it’s here and you’re likely using it in your day-to-day work if you’re Silicon Valley illuminati.

Want to take your Slack to the next level? Treat it as an asynchronous communication protocol!

I see this most often in DMs, but this advice applies to channel communications as well. When you’re talking to someone, give them the full thought so they can read it at any time and respond meaningful without have to acknowledge that you want to communicate before the real communication begins; don’t mete out your slack messages in a back-and-forth pattern. Slack messages are, at their very core, interrupts to humans; design your messages for optimal interrupt handling can make for higher quality communications!

Me: Hi!

In the sub-optimal example, I’ve provided an interrupt signal to initiate communication but it is completely context-free. The recipient doesn’t know what you want so they’re forced to send back a similarly meaningless acknowledgement to acknowledge your desire to communicate. Two interrupts, one on the recipient and one on the sender, are wasted just establishing the communication. This feels natural and polite because this is how face-to-face communication occurs. But Slack isn’t face-to-face communication! We can Slack better if we push aside the desire to request an interrupt and just provide the full context for our interrupt in one go.

If you provide all the context in your message the recipient can read and respond whenever they get around to handling the interrupt all in one cycle.

Here’s my suggested, protip-level, way to do it:

Me: Hi! I had a question about your sales report email you sent yesterday. The figures for AU seemed to indicate a strong decline, month over month, in cat walking services using our platform. Do we have additional insights on the churn here you could send me? I’m wondering if we need to run some cat-walking-specific advertisements in our usual channels or do some field work to understand why cat walkers might be moving away from our platform. Calk walking has been a traditionally strong market for us, hence my concern.

Now the interrupt contains enough information for the recipient, whenever they choose to read it, to understand why I interrupted them and what I needed from them. They can choose to respond with a complete response that handles the interrupt completely or with an open response that continues the back and forth like asking me for additional details. Also, I can walk away, feeling reasonably confident that when a response interrupt hits me what I’ve got back is similarly high-quality communication.

Bandwidth increased, right?

Slack on.

Written on June 30, 2017