Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
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Thoughts on forms of communication


Over time, I have come to realize that I, despite being highly introverted, do not actually dislike communication. I set out to write a brief piece on introversion and communication, but got somewhat side-tracked with a comparison of real time (RT) and non-RT communication. The below is the result. A split into several expanded articles on the individual topics is likely a better solution, and might follow at a later stage—in particular, as the individual entries are a bit thin. A complication is that a sub-division of these two categories might be needed for an optimal discussion, e.g. because RT communication by voice and/or when physically in the presence of the counterpart(s) might have too different characteristics from RT communication by other means and/or at greater distance.

Various mentalities and various forms of communications

Despite being highly introverted by any typical definition, I spend a lot of time (voluntarily) communicating. This website is a very good example. This might seem paradoxical at first, but can be explained with a closer look. A key insight is that I am less interested in bonding than others are, that I have many interests that bring me more entertainment than humans do, etc.; but that I enjoy exchanging information, gaining new insights, spreading my own insights to others, and similar. Largely, but possibly not exclusively for this reason, I have a preference for asynchronous, non-RT communication; and some amount of disdain for the opposite, but not for communication in general. Unfortunately, most others are the other way around, which can incorrectly create the impression that they are highly communicative and I am not. (However, it would be true to say, e.g., that I am less gregarious.)

I suspect that the same applies to many other introverts, and that it might be wise not confuse social interaction and communication with other forms of communication.

A related issue is the ease with which various types of communication is handled.

In the one direction, I have read several accounts by autists and persons with social phobias (who have overlapping issues) that speak of their problems handling RT communication at all. (E.g. because they become too nervous, think deeply rather than quickly, have problems with processing inputs sufficiently fast, or similar.) I often have the odd problem that I have several remarks that I want to or could give in reply to a statement by someone else, and that I cannot make up my mind which one to pick (or where to begin) in the often very small window open for a reply. Translating a complex thought into words (especially into German, which is my third language) during these small windows is also tricky. In contrast, someone who only has a single thought of low complexity can just go right ahead.

In the other direction, looking specifically at writing, we have to consider e.g. the many slow typists, the many poor spellers, and the many with no or shallow thoughts (who might find themselves, literally or metaphorical, staring at an empty sheet of paper), resp., on the receiving end, those who are weak readers, cannot handle complex sentence structures, whatnot. Then there are those who seek to bond rather than to communicate, to be entertained rather than to be informed, to manipulate others rather than to sway them with arguments, etc., for whom non-RT communication can be an obstacle to achieve the goal (even if they are fully capable of non-RT communication).


The second half of the above has been considerably rewritten, with some duplication with the below resulting.

RT vs. non-RT

All communication forms have advantages and disadvantages, and no one form is always better than all others; however, for a clear majority of all cases involving the exchange of facts or reasoning, planning, providing alternatives, discussing whose money goes where in exchange for what, ..., written non-RT communication is superior to oral RT communication. In contrast, for chit-chatting or flirting at the water-cooler, the situation is very different. Obviously, discretion should be used, in either direction: Insisting on an email with a two-line answer from someone who happens to be two feet away is rarely appropriate (one exception is when a need for confirmation in writing is needed); calling a loved one on the other side of the earth in the middle of his night sleep is equally inappropriate.

Here I focus on the former situations.


I recommend everyone to try to keep as much as possible of business communications in writing; in particular, when dealing with corporations and government agencies as an individual costumer/citizen. Not doing so can have severe negative effects. In my own experience, corporations are very prone to promise corrections of errors, re-payments of too large direct debits, etc., on the telephone, only to later decline fulfilling the “alleged” promise due to lack of written evidence. Civil servants, OTOH, tend to be highly un- and misinformed themselves, and can lead an honest citizen into missing deadlines, not deducting enough on his taxes, etc.

In my further experience, the less trustworthy an organisation has proved it self, the more prone it is to try to divert attempts at written information into telephone calls. Such attempts, in and by themselves, should be seen as warning signs.

Advantages of non-RT

Consider email (other forms are typically similar, but great variations can occur):

  1. Messages of higher quality are produced.

  2. Both the sender and the receiver have time to think things through, and do not need to go by their first respective impulse. Notably, first impulses are often incorrect, with at least two side-effects: Firstly, the receiver can get incorrect information and/or an incorrect view of the senders opinions. Secondly, many stubbornly stick to what they have once claimed, even if it turns out to be faulty, be it through cognitive dissonance, fear of losing face, or some other reason.


    Many also stubbornly stick to their opinions through e.g., an ideological conviction that this-or-that must be true, no matter the evidence against it; however, that is not relevant here.

  3. Similarly, there is time to check facts and details.

  4. A written trail exists, which is beneficial for at least four reasons: Firstly, promises and claims made can be verified later (although many of poor ethical standards might view this as a disadvantage...). Secondly, memory lapses (which are extremely common after spoken communication) can be filled in by going back to the email. Thirdly, the communications can be re-used and re-distributed much more easily. Fourthly, humans are more likely to focus on quality over quantity, avoid deceptions, etc., when something written exists.

  5. If the recipient is not present at the time of communication, he can simply catch up later. In particular, there is no need to explicitly schedule a meeting, compare agendas, or similar.

Advantages of RT


Speaking in person or, as a substitute, over telephone is the most common form of RT communication; however, other forms exist (at least “chatting” has to be added). Typically, the below always applies to communication in person, but might or might not apply to other forms of RT communication.

Arguments for RT seem to be:

  1. RT makes it easier to avoid misunderstandings: Completely false, except as in the next item.

    (However, if a misunderstanding is suspected, it can usually be cleared up faster with RT communication.)

  2. Non-RT communication suffers from the lack of body language, facial expressions, etc.: Partially true; however, nothing that cannot be compensated for by clear writing and reading, and a deliberate suppression of the dangerous impulse to read meanings into something that are not explicitly stated. In fact, and in the other direction, this impulse can be so problematic that it outweighs the advantages of body language: most are not sufficiently aware that others might use a different body language and that body language must be compared to the base level of the specific individual (e.g. when judging whether presence/absence of a smile is an indication of personal liking/aversion or a good/bad mood).

  3. Communication in person is faster: This is sometimes true; sometimes false. Definitely, the noise-to-information ratio is much higher when compared to e.g. communication in writing, eliminating much of the gain even in a best case scenario. Great losses of time can also occur, because the exact data that is needed to successfully complete an interaction is not known ahead of time, forcing a string of “I have to get back to you on that one.”.

    I note that with email few speed problems exist when the involved parties think things through, read and write properly, and do not try to skirt their responsibilities—most notably, do not refuse to give a two-line answer to a particular question by insisting that a completely unnecessary phone call be made.


    Looking more in detail, I suspect that RT communication is faster for sufficiently short and uncomplicated messages, while non-RT wins out when length or complexity increases.

  4. The ability to resolve matters interactively. Here there often is a genuine advantage and some matters might truly benefit.

I strongly suspect that the true reasons for support of RT communication are increased possibilities to manipulate the counter-part, bond with others, and a greater entertainment value—possibly even that it makes a good excuse for not actually working... Obviously, a naive view on what is more and less efficient and effective could also play in.

Notably, poor typists are particularly prone to dislike written communication. While a preference for talking over typing is understandable in these, the better solution (at least in the office) is to make sure that they improve their typing skills—which is not going to happen if they keep ducking situations that require typing. (Cf. my discussion of touch-typing.)


Email communication has one Achilles’ heal: Many irresponsible office workers ignore emails until someone comes around in person to push an issue along. However, this weakness is not inherent to emails, and should not be attacked by avoiding emails—instead company policies should put pressure on the irresponsible individuals to do their job in a more responsible manner.

Excursion on meetings

Meetings are often problematic because of low productivity, excessive length, lack of focus, coordination problems, and similar. While many, especially among managers and business graduates, seem to love meetings, meetings often do more harm than good, and any meeting held should prioritize creating enough value for the time that the participants invest. (Note, as a positive example, the “stand up” meetings popular in agile development.)

As a special case, meetings that are held to provide top-down information, e.g. by having a middle-manager, project manager, whatnot, expound for half an eternity on some matter in front of the team, are almost always better handled by an email or some other written information. The written version gives incentives to be short and to the point, the presence of a record is a good memory help and reduces the risk for misunderstandings, those with something urgent to do are not forced to choose between interrupting work and missing the meeting, etc. Yes, some might not read the email, but they should be put against those who would have spent the meeting “mentally checked-out”. (And the two groups are likely strongly overlapping...)

Decision making is another tricky issue. Yes, using a meeting to make a decision has the advantage of getting the decision done fast. However, the decision is often poor and great attention must be paid to sufficient prep time and whatnot (which reduces the speed advantage). For instance, in one project, we were again and again called to meetings, a new issue was briefly presented, an “off the top of the head” decision was made by the group—and, soon after, the decision proved to be either outright wrong or suboptimal. Worse, on several occasions when I pointed to the problems with a decision, the attitude was that the decision had been made and that it was just a waste of time to discuss it now. If I had had objections, I should have voiced them during the meeting. This attitude misses the point on at least three counts: Firstly, a decision that can still be corrected (not all can) should always be open to correction. Secondly, the very form of decision making made it impossible to consider all possible complications before the decision was made—let alone raise an objection based on them. (As proved by the many faulty decisions.) Thirdly, even when a decision cannot be altered, it can be very, very worthwhile to consider why it was incorrect and what can be done better next time. (Alas, the worse the decision-making skills, the greater the resistance to any attempt to draw lessons.)

This closely parallels the problems with RT-communication and is simply not a way to make decisions of more than trivial importance or when the decisions are very easy and clear-cut. It is true that brooding too long over a decision can do more harm than good, but, in most cases, time spent in solitary thought or even just letting the decision mature is well spent (say 10 minutes spread over 24 hours, possibly during otherwise unproductive times, e.g. in the bathroom). If a written discussion is not wanted, then a better way is to present the problems orally today and make the decisions one or two days later, after the participants have actually had time to think.


Over the years, I have grown ever more skeptical to collective decision-making. There are advantages like a chance of greater “buy in”, but the decisions, themselves, tend to be poor, with a comparatively low-knowledge/-understanding/-IQ majority overruling the comparatively high-knowledge/-understanding/-IQ minority.

Excursion on texting culture

The original version of this text was written before the “texting culture” (which I, here, take to include “messaging” and to some degree communication per e.g. Instagram) had become as prevalent as it is today (2023). To re-visit the above in light of this culture would require disproportionate effort (beginning with a need for me to do research on the strange world of texting), but a few remarks:

  1. Texting and similar activities often take a middle-ground between RT and non-RT communication or use means more naturally suited for non-RT communication to perform (quasi-)RT communication. At an extreme, we have the stereotype of two teenage girls who hold a conversation per texting while sitting next to each other.

  2. A texting attitude, including odd misspellings (“u”, “2”, “thx”, etc.) and the throwing together of words with little thought, has often spread to e.g. emails, thereby reducing the benefits of email considerably.

  3. Going by numbers, non-smartphone behaviors, and similar, I have the impression that those who today seem addicted to their smartphones, texting, whatnot, would, if born a generation or two earlier, very often have been among those who complained about others spending “too much” time reading, “too little” time talking, etc. (But this is very speculative.)