Re: Use of email
From: Jim Mayer (
Date: Wed, 12 Feb 2014 06:58:43 -0800 (PST)
> The "feedback cycle" of an email conversation is longer and more variable
>  than for face
> > to face communication.
> This is an interesting point. Can you say more about it?

Sure... look at a group of people interacting in a room.  They're not just
reciting prepared speeches!  Each person is watching what the others are
saying, how they're acting, how they're reacting to the different agendas
in the group, and how the group "overall" is leaning.  Not only are they
watching the other members of the group, they're constantly modifying what
they do and say in an effort to influence the group.  It's very fluid,
dynamic, and extremely political.  People are good at political!  Also,
because the group is in one room, the time between a person doing
something, observing the reactions, and the reacting themselves is almost
immediate.  In other words, the "feedback cycle" is extremely short.

Now consider a group interacting through email.  People are still
political, and they're still observing each other, but the feedback isn't
as immediate anymore.  If I send an email at 9:00 AM,  I might see
responses at 9:03 AM, 10:00 AM, 3:00 PM, etc.  Instead of the feedback
being immediate, it may come back minutes, hours, or even days later. In
fact, if someone does not respond, there may be no feedback at all.  This
makes it much, much harder for individuals to figure out how the group is
reacting.  In other words, the "feedback cycle" is both long and variable.

I picked up the term from the idea of a "closed loop process control
system".  An example of that is driving a car.  As the car proceeds down
the road the driver is constantly making observations and taking actions
(steering, brakes, accelerator, etc.).  Once we learn to drive it's all
very natural.  It's also a short feedback cycle.  Imagine, though, what it
would be like if when you turned the wheel the car didn't change direction
for five seconds (this is part of why the people who pilot big ships make
serious money).  That's a longer feedback cycle.  Now, imagine what it
would be like if sometimes the car turned in five seconds, and sometimes
the car turned in ten seconds!  That's a long, variable, feed back cycle
(and a recipe for an accident).

Anyway, people are so good at handling short feedback cycles that we're
often not even consciously aware of them.  We're not so good at handling
longer feedback cycles, and so those require more training and experience.

As for good or bad, I think that different styles of interaction have
different strengths and weaknesses.  It helps to know what they are.

Off soapbox :-)


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