FIU Business Now Magazine
Overusing Email for Certain Conversations Affects Later Performance

Overusing Email for Certain Conversations Affects Later Performance

By Cynthia Corzo

Is your day a nonstop cycle of email, instant messaging and other text-based communication? New research from FIU Business shows that if you’re looking to stay sharp throughout the day, you might want to take your fingers off the keyboard for a bit.

The research finds that excessive use of text-based communication – including email and instant messaging – for complex tasks such as negotiating, decision-making or problem-solving, can lower a person’s interest and performance on work started after the conversation is finished.

“Negotiating or working together to solve a problem is more difficult over email or instant messenger than working in person because text-based communication limits visual, vocal and nonverbal cues,” said Ravi Gajendran, the FIU Business associate professor of global leadership and management who conducted the research. “You have to think about what you’re writing, to make sure it’s not misinterpreted.”

In the study, published in the March 2022 issue of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, researchers conducted tests looking at the proposed relationships between the communication vehicle on tasks including negotiating and coordinating, as well as on motivation maintenance, and performance on complex reasoning tasks, such as card sorting or assembling puzzles.

In one test, pairs of participants had to interact via text or in person to guide the other on putting a series of pictures in the correct order. After that, they had to read a media story and identify any errors. Those who used text-based communication found fewer errors, showing a 19% reduction in complex reasoning task performance relative to the average in-person communicator.

Another test measured motivation after participants spent 20 minutes on a task that required pairs to communicate in order to assemble tangram puzzles and then answer six questions from the Cognitive Reflection Test. Text-based communicators chose the intuitive but incorrect response to a greater extent, showing lower motivation maintenance.

“We want to make people better prepared and to keep in mind that using email for these [tasks] is taxing. Knowing this, you can plan for a break and take a walk before starting a more challenging task,” Gajendran said. “Top management can know the costs and determine what’s better or worse.”