Communication breakdown Featured

5:00am EDT March 31, 2006
If time is the most precious commodity you own, the following shouldn’t surprise you: Phone communication within companies is an endangered species, and face-to-face meetings don’t fare much better.

These days, most executives use e-mail to fire off short salvos, ask employees quick questions and provide brief answers about anything and everything they need to communicate. A whopping 71 percent rely on e-mail as their preferred communication method, according to a recent poll by OfficeTeam of 150 senior executives at the nation’s 1,000 largest companies.

The survey found that only 13 percent of managers use the telephone as their primary means of conversing with colleagues, down from 48 percent just five years ago, and a scant 14 percent rely on face-to-face meetings, compared to 24 percent five years ago.

Like others, over the past few years I’ve changed my communication practices to rely on e-mail rather than the phone. However, I’ve focused mostly on external communication rather than internal affairs.

For years, I never missed an opportunity to chat on the phone, have lunch with a CEO or shmooze over a cup of coffee with PR professionals. It kept my finger on the pulse of the Northeast Ohio business community and helped build an expansive Rolodex of contacts.

And though communicating via e-mail allows me to better control my time, I’ve noticed a lost sense of connectivity that comes from talking on the phone or staring someone in the eye during a conversation.

While it’s important to maintain communication with external forces, it’s even more critical to maintain it internally. For example, I’m just as likely to drop in to a colleague’s office or cubicle as I am to zip off a quick missive. The daily contact with employees and colleagues keeps the door open and ensures that communication remains a two-way street.

It’s far too easy to rely on e-mail as the main method of communication within your company and fall into the trap I have with external communication. You lose that finger on the pulse that helps keep a company running smoothly without miscommunication and more important, you cut off the flow of conversation that every company needs.

Dustin S. Klein is executive editor of Smart Business Network. Reach him at dsklein@sbnonline.com or (440) 250-7026.