Derek Sivers

Considerate communication


You get a big long email from someone and think, “Ooof. I’ll come back to that later.” (Then you never do.)

Someone tries to contact you using a technology you hate, like a surprising incoming video call.

You have a dilemma and need a good conversation, so you reach out to someone who replies, “Can you make it quick?”

You’re overwhelmed with work on a tight deadline, and a friend calls trying to have a long conversation.

It’s hard to match your communication with someone else’s preference and situation.

There’s a huge benefit to having a great conversation, but sometimes you need to be extremely succinct. So how do you reconcile this? Here’s my advice:

First, prepare the most succinct version of your reason for contacting someone. Make it so short that if the person only has 30 seconds to talk, you could communicate your point, ask your question, and get the answer.

With real-time communication, like text or phone, just start by asking if they have time. If they do, then take the time to get personal, be a friend, and have a good conversation. But if they don’t, then just use the short version.

With non-real-time communication, like email, assume you’ve only got ten seconds. Edit your emails down to a few sentences. But always give a link to more information, so they can check it out if they have time. And include your other contact information, in case they prefer a longer conversation about it. (This is what email signatures are for.) Then, if they reply and ask, you can give the extra information you left out before.

Some hate texting. Some hate calls. Some hate video. Some hate it all. Just keep track of their preference for future use.

This may sound obvious, but it’s a bigger problem than people realize. Considerate communication is surprisingly rare.