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More clicks than conversations

As professionals with overflowing inboxes may attest, people are doing more typing than talking when communicating on the job. Results from a recent OfficeTeam survey bear this out: Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of executives prefer to receive e...

As professionals with overflowing inboxes may attest, people are doing more typing than talking when communicating on the job.

Results from a recent OfficeTeam survey bear this out: Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of executives prefer to receive e-mail over other forms of communication, up from 34 percent a decade ago. Conversely, the preference for face-to-face meetings, paper memos and voice mail has dropped.

Diane Domeyer, executive director of OfficeTeam, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of highly skilled administrative professionals, noted that while e-mail offers convenience, this ease comes at a price.

"Many professionals receive an overwhelming amount of e-mail, which makes it easier for messages to get lost in the shuffle," she said.

The survey was developed by OfficeTeam and conducted by an independent research firm, and includes interviews with 150 senior executives at the nation's 1,000 largest companies.

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Executives were asked, "Which form of business communication do you generally prefer to receive?" Their responses (first percentage is 2007, second percentage is 1997):

  • ?E-mail - 65 percent; 34 percent.
  • ?Face-to-face meeting - 31 percent; 44 percent.
  • ?Paper memo - 3 percent; 12 percent.
  • ?Voice mail - 1 percent; 7 percent.
  • ?Don't know - 0 percent; 3 percent.

"Two benefits of electronic communication are the immediacy and historical context it provides, including the ability to maintain a record of conversations and obtain project updates from coworkers and business colleagues," Domeyer said. "But there can be too much of a good thing when inboxes reach capacity."
To avoid e-mail overload and ensure your messages are well-received, OfficeTeam offers these five tips:

  • ?Make it clear. State the purpose for the message upfront, followed by back-up details, so the important points will show up in the recipient's e-mail viewing pane.
  • ?Avoid copying everyone. Only forward messages to those who are directly involved with the topic you're addressing. Likewise, don't "reply all" if others on the string don't need your response.
  • ?Keep it brief. Don't expect others to read a long message or e-mail chain. If it's important for someone to have the background information, forward it, but provide a brief summary first rather than saying "see below."
  • ?Don't cry wolf. Only mark a message "urgent" when it is truly critical for the recipient to read it immediately.
  • ?Provide context. Describe the e-mail contents in the subject line so the recipient can prioritize messages and search for your note in the future. When appropriate, include the required action and deadline; for example, "For your approval 12/27: XYZ budget."

Domeyer noted that, although e-mail is fast, it isn't the most appropriate medium for all communications.
"Often, tasks can be accomplished more quickly and clearly with a phone call or face to face," she said. "When people find themselves spending a lot of time searching for precisely the right words, it's often a sign that the topic warrants an in-person discussion."

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