Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Don't Make Me the Bad Guy: Organizational Norms, Self-Monitoring, and the Mum Effect

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Don't Make Me the Bad Guy: Organizational Norms, Self-Monitoring, and the Mum Effect

Article excerpt

Commonly, organizational members faced with giving negative feedback find themselves in an uncomfortable situation and fail to share negative information (e.g., Manzoni, 2002; Harvey et al., 2009). Unfortunately, the failure to communicate bad news or give negative feedback can have disastrous consequences. For instance, in airline crashes, the NTSB (2000) reports that a substantial number of accidents may occur, in part, due to the failure of the co-pilot to speak-up when the captain has made an error. The August, 1997, Korean Air Flight 801 crash is attributed in part to the failure of the co-pilot and engineer to speak up about their awareness of instrument and altitude problems. Pilot errors went unchallenged, and as a result, the crew was unable to correct the flight path in time (NTSB, 2000). However, not all instances of mum lead to such dire ends. Smith, Keil, and Depledge (2001) provide the example of a failed joint venture of Marriott, Hilton, and Budget Rent-a-Car where those operating the failing reservation system reported that important technical and performance problems had not been shared with all parties, thus creating both ethical and financial problems for all involved.

The reluctance or failure to deliver negative information, which is called the "mum effect," refers to keeping silent, or mum, about undesirable messages (Tesser et al., 1972a; Rosen and Tesser, 1970). While the notion that providing accurate feedback is necessary for organizational learning and performance improvement (Sussman and Sproull, 1999) may seem relatively straightforward, in actuality, it often creates a challenge for those responsible for relaying negative information (e.g., Harvey et al., 2009). As a result of this difficulty, previous research examines the underlying reasons for mum behaviors (e.g. Tesser et al., 1972a; Uysal and Oner-Ozkan, 2007). Though there is substantial literature investigating the mum effect (e.g., Rosen and Tesser, 1970; Larson, 1984; Keil et al., 2007; Sussman and Sproull, 1999) and its consequences (e.g., Keil and Robey, 1999; Keil et al., 2007), several aspects of the mum effect are underresearched. In particular, researchers have yet to empirically examine the potential of normative influence on mum and the interaction of individual and situational factors to explain when an individual will engage in mum. Further, very little research addresses the notion that mum effect may manifest itself in a variety of ways.

Behaviors in the work place are shaped by the characteristics of individual employees as well as employee perceptions of organizational expectations of behaviors (e.g., organizational norms). Thus, to gain a better understanding of individual's behaviors, researchers should investigate external sources of influence such as organizational norms. Because previous research indicates that organizational norms and concern for self, influence the likelihood an individual will engage in mum behaviors (e.g., Uysal and Oner-Ozkan, 2007), Mischel's (1977) personality/situation framework provides the opportunity to understand a broader picture of mum behavior within an organizational context. Specifically, the present study considers characteristics of the situation (i.e., organizational norms), characteristics of the person (i.e., self-monitoring), as well as the interaction of the situation with personality (i.e., organizational norms X self-monitoring).

This study offers several contributions to the extant literature. The primary contribution of this study is the use of Mischel's (1977) person-situation framework to offer new insights into the prediction of mum behavior. To the authors' knowledge, this is the only study that examines mum behavior from an interactionist perspective. Furthermore, because this study considers two different mum behaviors, it contributes to the literature by empirically examining various ways that mum behavior can manifest itself (i.e., avoidance and sugarcoating), as well as predictors of the particular behaviors. …

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