Communication Is Hard, Especially When You Don't Communicate

Written by on Sep 9 2010

The purpose of communication is understanding. To get as close to mind reading as is possible and comfortable/appropriate. This is true whether you’re communicating with a client, partner, spouse, child, parent, or friend.

Communication methods (worst to best):


  • Great for short exchanges where detail and context are either not important or easily conveyed.
  • Just need a phone, so can happen very easily.
  • Impossible to type fast enough to have a deep understanding of complicated subject matter. Like emotions or functional specifications.
  • Completely asynchronous so ideas/threads get lost and people type over each other.
  • Since fewer words are used very difficult to know what the other is truly thinking.
  • Tone and inflection are conveyed via emoticons, very poor.
  • Very difficult to recover once things get heated or misunderstood.

Instant Message:

  • Similar to SMS but slightly better.
  • Faster typing allows the use of more words and so ideas can be more fully expressed.
  • Notification of when the other is typing makes this less asynchronous, but you still don’t get the message until they’re done typing so async problems can still arise.
  • Not much better than SMS.


  • Not instant, so it slows the pressure to respond and you can give a more thoughtful response.
  • Slow so not great for highly charged topics.
  • by the 13th reply, everyone is frustrated.


  • Full duplex so you can interrupt, pause your thought move in the conversation together.
  • You can hear tone and inflection which goes a long way to understanding and mind reading.
  • The phone is the standard and so most people are very content and comfortable communicating fairly effectively on it.
  • Some people hate the phone and can’t really open up on the phone.

Video Chat:

  • Almost as good as it gets.
  • Seeing as well as hearing increases mind reading skills.
  • Makes distance basically irrelevant.

Face to Face:

  • Slightly better than video chat, I guess it’s just better when you can reach out to the real person in front of you.

Therapists Office:

  • Or any trained moderator, if your communication skills aren’t great, or the two of you are just speaking different languages, having someone trained who can slow things down and realize when the two of you are using the same word but meaning different things can certainly promote understanding.

The essence of good communication is empathy and a sincere desire to understand. If you’re being misunderstood, or misunderstanding, move up the chain until it starts working. Lastly, it is the speaker’s responsibility to make themselves understood. The listener has no chance of understanding so the speaker must discern when she is being understood or not. A great listen can overcome this, but it is very difficult. If you want to be a better communicator start by being a better listener. Don’t just listen to the words, but also try to figure out the deeper meanings, the motivations of the speaker, her feelings. This will make you a more effective speaker.


Hi I'm Steven,

I wrote the article you're reading... I lead the developers, write music, used to race motorcycles, and help clients find the right features to build on their product.

Get Blog Updates