Being Polite and Keeping MUM: How Bad News is Communicated in Organizational Hierarchies

Being Polite and Keeping MUM: How Bad News is Communicated in Organizational Hierarchies There are many ways to communicate bad news. The MUM effect (Tesser & Rosen, 1975), which is keeping mum and not transmitting the bad news at all, is only one of many possible approaches. Using P. Brown and Levinson's (1987) politeness theory, an experimental study was conducted to address not whether bad news is being transmitted, but how bad news is being transmitted. The results show that most communicators tend to use politeness strategies when communicating bad news. Moreover, using politeness strategies to couch the message did not attenuate the informative value of the message. Focused contrasts revealed two strong interactions between gender and communication direction on strategy use. First, power differences more strongly predicted strategy use for men, whereas distance differences more strongly predicted strategy use for women. Second, men used most politeness strategies when the combined effect of power and distance was the highest (as the politeness theory would predict), but the trend was reversed for women. This finding suggests that politeness theory may not be an accurate model for describing female communicators. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Journal of Applied Social Psychology Wiley

Being Polite and Keeping MUM: How Bad News is Communicated in Organizational Hierarchies

Journal of Applied Social Psychology, Volume 23 (14) – Jul 1, 1993

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Publisher
Wiley
Copyright
Copyright © 1993 Wiley Subscription Services, Inc., A Wiley Company
ISSN
0021-9029
eISSN
1559-1816
DOI
10.1111/j.1559-1816.1993.tb01025.x
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

There are many ways to communicate bad news. The MUM effect (Tesser & Rosen, 1975), which is keeping mum and not transmitting the bad news at all, is only one of many possible approaches. Using P. Brown and Levinson's (1987) politeness theory, an experimental study was conducted to address not whether bad news is being transmitted, but how bad news is being transmitted. The results show that most communicators tend to use politeness strategies when communicating bad news. Moreover, using politeness strategies to couch the message did not attenuate the informative value of the message. Focused contrasts revealed two strong interactions between gender and communication direction on strategy use. First, power differences more strongly predicted strategy use for men, whereas distance differences more strongly predicted strategy use for women. Second, men used most politeness strategies when the combined effect of power and distance was the highest (as the politeness theory would predict), but the trend was reversed for women. This finding suggests that politeness theory may not be an accurate model for describing female communicators.

Journal

Journal of Applied Social PsychologyWiley

Published: Jul 1, 1993

References

  • An investigation of compliance‐gaining on politeness
    Baxter, Baxter

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