Fixing Relationships with Vocal Conversation

One of the upsides to our interconnected world is that we can collaborate and partner up with people from all across the globe, pairing people of different skills and passions together to make awesome stuff. Some of the most fun I’ve had has been as part of partnerships:

  • Paul Tevis and I on his A Penny For My Thoughts
  • Josh Roby and I on his Vicious Crucible games and my Mythender
  • Leonard Balsera on designing The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game and Fate Core System
  • Tim Rodriguez and I on Backstory Cards
  • Of course, my awesome editors like Amanda Valentine and Jennifer Brozek
  • Certainly not least, my wife and partner in freelance crime Lillian Cohen-Moore

But like any relationship, partnerships and professional relationships are hard! They can become strained because people have different agendas and different sets of bandwidth. And this is made harder when your primary method of communication is the cold, inflectionless hell of asynchronous text.

Something I heard from Avery Mcdaldno a couple weeks ago: if you’re writing a critique and it’s over 100 words, stop. At that point, it won’t be well received, and you’re just wasting your time because it won’t be well received.

I apply similar to my partnerships. If there’s a frustrating moment in one, and it takes more than five minutes of crafting an email for me to communicate a problem, then I take a step back and consider if the email I’m going to write will be read charitably or frustratedly.

We all understand in the abstract that doing stuff by email means that we can’t influence the environment that our words are read. We can’t distract attention away from another conversation that’s getting headed, causing the email reader to read everything headed. We can’t say a statement, gauge the reaction, and adjust accordingly. We can’t let someone else interrupt us to add to the conversation and get it going in the right direction.

IM isn’t much better. It’s real-time, but you don’t know what other stimuli is around the recipient or what non-textual reactions you would otherwise be receiving.

So if you find that you’re getting into a frustrated (or worse) dynamic with a partner, stop trying to solve it over the worst medium possible. Schedule a hangout, make a phone call, or even sit down for coffee. Don’t schedule this as a “we have ten minutes to solve a problem” either—smoothing out a rough moment in any relationship, professional and personal, isn’t a timed exercise.

Edit to add: A good trigger for this isn’t just if you feel you’re writing a long email to address a frustration, but if you hit three emails in an exchange without reaching an accord or relief.

urge you to not let your relationships become sour because you’re try to solve it over email. Pick up the phone. You might just save your partnership by doing so.

– Ryan


5 Responses to Fixing Relationships with Vocal Conversation

  1. Erik Schmidt says:

    Ryan, this is such excellent advice, and one I wish were understood and acted upon by more people in business and in life at large.

  2. Kevin Richey says:

    Hear, hear. Aptly demonstrated by Key & Peele:

    Another heuristic I like to use is when an email conversation about a single topic or question exceeds three exchanges, then I stop typing and go meet the person.

  3. Sarah T. says:

    Even in my corporate work environment this is true. There are a few people I have a really hard time communicating with, and I’d much rather use email cuz it’s “easier” and I can say everything I intend to before they interrupt me. On the flip side, if it’s more than 3 email exchanges, or more than 100 words, the in-person or telephone conversation is definitely a better option. Thanks for the reminder!!!