Managing to Stay in the Dark: Managerial Self-Efficacy, Ego-Defensiveness, and the Aversion to Employee Voice

Fast, N.J., Burris, E.R., and Bartel, C.A. (2014). Academy of Management Journal, 57, 1013-1034.

Soliciting and incorporating employee voice is essential to organizational performance, yet some managers display a strong aversion to improvement-oriented input from subordinates. To help to explain this maladaptive tendency, we tested the hypothesis that managers with low managerial self-efficacy (that is, low perceived ability to meet the elevated competence expectations associated with managerial roles) seek to minimize voice as a way of compensating for a threatened ego. The results of two studies support this idea. In a field study (Study 1), managers with low managerial self-efficacy were less likely than others to solicit input, leading to lower levels of employee voice. A follow-up experimental study (Study 2) showed that: (a) manipulating low managerial self-efficacy led to voice aversion (that is, decreased voice solicitation, negative evaluations of an employee who spoke up, and reduced implementation of voice); and (b) the observed voice aversion associated with low managerial self-efficacy was driven by ego defensiveness. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of these findings, as well as highlight directions for future research on voice, management, and leadership.

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Blame Contagion: The Automatic Transmission of Self-Serving Attributions

Fast, N.J. and Tiedens, L.Z. (2010). Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 97-106.

When people blame others for their mistakes, they learn less and perform worse. This problem is magnified when blame becomes embedded in the shared culture of groups and organizations. Yet, little is known about whether—and, if so, how—the propensity to blame spreads from one person to another. Four experiments addressed this issue, demonstrating that blame is socially contagious: observing an individual make a blame attribution increased the likelihood that people would make subsequent blame attributions for their own, unrelated, failures (Experiments 1, 2, and 4). Results also indicated that this “blame contagion” is due to the transmission of goals. Blame exposure led to the inference and adoption of a self-image protection goal (Experiment 3), and blame contagion was eliminated when observers had the opportunity to alleviate this self-image protection goal via self-affirmation (Experiment 4). Implications for research on causal attributions, social contagion, and cultural transmission are discussed.

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Common Ground and Cultural Prominence: How Conversation Reinforces Culture

Fast, N.J., Heath, C., and Wu, G. (2009). Psychological Science, 20, 904-911.

Why do well-known ideas, practices, and people maintain their cultural prominence in the presence of equally good or better alternatives? This article suggests that a social-psychological process whereby people seek to establish common ground with their conversation partners causes familiar elements of culture to increase in prominence, independently of performance or quality. Two studies tested this hypothesis in the context of professional baseball, showing that common ground predicted the cultural prominence of baseball players better than their performance, even though clear performance metrics are available in this domain. Regardless of performance, familiar players, who represented common ground, were discussed more often than lesser-known players, both in a dyadic experiment (Study 1) and in natural discussions on the Internet (Study 2). Moreover, these conversations mediated the positive link between familiarity and a more institutionalized measure of prominence: All-Star votes (Study 2). Implications for research on the psychological foundations of culture are discussed.

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Group Status, Perceptions of Threat, and Support for Social Inequality

Morrison, K.R., Fast, N.J., and Ybarra, O. (2009). Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 204-210.

Members of high-status groups have been shown to favor social inequality, but little research has investigated the boundary conditions of this phenomenon. In the present article we suggest that perceived intergroup threat moderates the relationship between group status and support for social inequality (i.e., social dominance orientation), especially among highly identified group members. In Study 1, Democrats and Republicans rated their party’s relative status and were later exposed to a leading US. Presidential candidate from the opposing party (high threat) or their own party (low threat). In Study 2, university students were made to believe that their school had high or low status and were then presented with threatening or non-threatening information about a rival institution. The results of both studies supported the prediction that status only increases preferences for group-based inequality under conditions of high threat and high ingroup identification.

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