Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Exploring the Role of Touch and Apologies in Forgiveness of Workplace Offenses

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Exploring the Role of Touch and Apologies in Forgiveness of Workplace Offenses

Article excerpt

Interpersonal communication is the bedrock of effective organizations. Some researchers have gone so tar as suggesting that "In essence, communication is the processual activity, that constitutes the organization" (Allen et al., 1996: 384). Although communication occurs both verbally and nonverbally, organizational researchers have often overlooked the nonverbal aspect of communication in the workplace, especially tactile communication (i.e., touching) (Fuller et al., 2011). This oversight is noteworthy because researchers estimate that over 55% of a message is likely communicated through non-verbal factors, which include the use of touch (Mehrabian, 1981). A great deal of scientific research has examined touch (Hertenstein et al., 2006). In particular, it has addressed various aspects of touch such as gender patterns in touch behavior (Major, 1981; Major et al., 1990), meaning conveyed by touch (Major, 1981), the need for touch in children (Montagu, 1986; Morris, 1973) as well as infant development (Spitz, 1965), power (Mayo and Henley, 1981), and self esteem (Silverman et al., 1973), as well as the effects of touch on compliance and prosocial behavior (Kleinke 1977; Goldman and Fordyce, 1983).

Though fields such as psychology and communication (Henley, 1977; Major, 1981) have investigated touch, unfortunately, the scope of research regarding interpersonal touch has been limited (Gallace and Spence, 2010). In particular, the literature on interpersonal touch in the workplace is scant (Fuller et al., 2011; Heaphy, 2007). One notable exception is that touch in the workplace has been addressed in the marketing literature. Research has demonstrated the benefits of touch in a variety of consumer behavioral interactions such as helping a needy individual, spending more in stores, and complying with others' requests (Hornik, 1992). The organizational behavior literature has rarely addressed touch in the workplace; yet as noted above, touch can produce positive interpersonal outcomes and is thus worthy of further investigation in the context of a business setting. In fact, one management practitioner guide actually suggests that managers touch employees when praising or reprimanding them (e.g., Blanchard and Johnson, 2003), albeit without empirical evidence supporting such contentions. Examining touch in a work setting is important because context is considered to be critically important in understanding the use and meaning of touch (Richmond and McCroskey, 2004). The workplace is a somewhat unique setting for tactile interaction because sexual harassment concerns have caused many managers to tear touching their subordinates and many organizations to implement human resource management policies that constrain or prohibit the use of touch in the workplace (Heaphy, 2007; Richmond and McCroskey, 2004). However, research indicates that positive touch occurs within organizations (e.g., Fuller et al., 2011). Therefore, the purpose of this study is to explore the possibility that touch (a handshake or a pat on the back) may play a role in apology for and forgiveness of offenses in the workplace.

Because touch is one of the most complex forms of communication, it conveys a variety of meanings which may or may not be correctly interpreted by the recipient. As a result, an exploration of the positive use of touch in the workplace would be remiss without first differentiating it from unacceptable touch (i.e., sexual harassment). Sexual harassment is described by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2007) as:

"a form of sex discrimination.... Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment" (www.eeoc.gov/types/sexual_harassment. …

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