Academic journal article Administrative Science Quarterly

Maintaining Norms about Expressed Emotions: The Case of Bill Collectors

Academic journal article Administrative Science Quarterly

Maintaining Norms about Expressed Emotions: The Case of Bill Collectors

Article excerpt

Maintaining Norms about Expressed Emotions: The Case of Bill Collectors

A qualitative study of a bill-collection organization was used to identify norms about the emotions that collectors are expected to convey to debtors and the means used by the organization to maintain such norms given that collectors' expressed emotions are simultaneously influenced by their inner feelings. These data indicate that collectors are selected, socialized, and rewarded for following the general norm of conveying urgency (high arousal with a hint of irritation) to debtors. Collectors are further socialized and rewarded to adjust their expressed emotions in response to variations in debtor demeanor. These contingent norms sometimes clash with collectors' feelings toward debtors. Bill collectors are taught to cope with such emotive dissonance by using cognitive appraisals that help them become emotionally detached from debtors and by releasing unpleasant feelings without communicating these emotions to debtors. The discussion focuses on the implications of this research for developing general theory about the expression of emotion in organizational life. The notion that organizations have strong norms about the emotions that members ought to display to others is the central theme of an emerging body of theory and research. This literature has focused on service employees who are expected to convey good cheer, including flight attendants (Hochschild, 1983), Disney employees (Van Maanen and Kunda, 1989), and convenience store clerks (Sutton and Rafaeli, 1988). Researchers also have described roles such as those of physicians (Smith and Kleinman, 1989), in which a neutral demeanor is normative, and bill collectors (Hochschild, 1983), in which members are expected to display negative emotions. Other studies have described employees who are expected to adjust their demeanor to different categories of persons encountered on the job, like the police detectives studied by Stenross and Kleinman (1989), who were expected to convey negative emotions to suspected criminals and warmth to victims. These norms, or organizational "display rules" (Ekman, 1973), usually are espoused by managers because they believe that expressing required emotions will help employees gain control over others in ways that promote organizational goals. These expectations are termed norms, however, not because they are accurate descriptions of how members usually behave (Bettenhausen and Murnighan, 1985), but because more powerful organization members believe that less powerful members ought engage in such behaviors. Despite their presumed importance, such norms are not all-powerful determinants of the emotions that members convey to others. Evidence gathered thus far suggests that employees' inner feelings are among the most important additional determinants of their expressed emotions (Hochschild, 1983; Rafaeli and Sutton, 1989; Van Maanen and Kunda, 1989). Organizations often go through considerable effort to help ensure that employees (especially those in boundary roles) will be inclined to experience normative emotions. These organizations appear to do so because if employees feel the same emotions that they are expected to express, then norms can be maintained more easily and consistently. Selection and socialization appear to be the primary means that organizations use to fill positions with employees who feel emotions that are congruent with norms (Rafaeli and Sutton, 1987). Hochschild (1983) reported that Delta Airlines used extensive interviews to help ensure that flight attendants were upbeat people. Delta also used a trial period to determine if new attendants had the "emotional stamina" to exude good cheer during long, crowded flights. Socialization practices help ensure that, even if employees aren't initially disposed to experience required emotions, they will internalize display rules and learn to experience such feelings. Mary Kay Ash, president of Mary Kay Cosmetics, insists that her beauty consultants act enthusiastic and asserts that even if this emotion is not felt, they should offer fake enthusiasm until it becomes a genuine feeling (Ash, 1984). …

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