Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Relationships among Power Distance, Collectivism, Punishment, and Acquiescent, Defensive, or Prosocial Silence

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Relationships among Power Distance, Collectivism, Punishment, and Acquiescent, Defensive, or Prosocial Silence

Article excerpt

Employee silence has become a fundamental issue in personnel management because of its pervasiveness in modern organizations (Morrison & Milliken, 2000; Van Dyne, Ang, & Botero, 2003). Defined as intentionally concealing information, ideas, and opinions with relevance to improvements in organization (Van Dyne et al., 2003) employee silence has a number of negative outcomes for organizations and individuals. For example, withholding different types of opinions may negatively affect decision making because it is difficult to identify the pros and cons of different types of solutions (Perlow, 2003). In addition, withholding information is perceived to be an obstacle to organizational development and change (Morrison & Milliken, 2000), and can influence error correction and innovation (Beer & Eisenstat, 2000). Moreover, refraining from information sharing generates stress, dissatisfaction, and cynicism (Beer & Eisenstat, 2000), which are the main obstacles to good employee performance. Therefore, investigating the factors that generate employee silence remains an important issue in organizational management.

Among the antecedents of silence, cultural values and managerial practices have substantial influence. According to Hirokawa and Miyahara (1986), cultural values have a significant impact on communication. Speaking up is inconsistent with the cultural value of high power distance and, thus, individuals employed in organizations in high-power-distance cultures are less likely to express their ideas, lest this be understood as challenging the status of the manager (Porter, Allen, & Angle, 1980). Similarly, Morrison and Milliken (2000) suggested that managers with high-power-distance orientation and collectivistic cultural beliefs are more likely than other managers to foster silence in their organizations. Regarding managerial practices, punishment is perceived to be one of the main antecedents of silence (Milliken, Morrison, & Hewlin, 2003) because, before speaking up, members of organizations assess the risk that sharing of information (Dutton & Ashford, 1993) can trigger punishment. Individuals who have a fear of punishment or retaliation (e.g., losing a job or not receiving a promotion) become reluctant to share information with their superiors (Milliken et al., 2003). Therefore, we reasoned that investigating the roles of both cultural dimensions and managerial practices as potential determinants of silence would lead to a deeper understanding of the relationships among power distance, collectivism, punishment, and silence.

Despite the importance of the roles of cultural values and managerial practices in inducing silence, much remains unknown concerning how power distance, collectivism, and punishment influence different forms of silence, such as acquiescent, defensive, and prosocial (Van Dyne et al., 2003). For instance, Huang, Van de Vliert, and Van der Vegt (2005) investigated the impact of power distance on silence and identified significant associations between these two constructs. Because Huang et al. investigated the influence of power distance on employees' tendency to withhold opinions about the organization, they did not indicate the form of silence that was generated by power distance. Additionally, although these authors investigated power distance as a cultural dimension that generates silence, they overlooked measuring how silence was influenced by collectivism, which is one of the main cultural dimensions. Milliken et al. (2003) found that there was a relationship between punishment and silence but these authors also did not indicate the form of silence that was induced by punishment.

The main shortcoming in previous studies is the lack of information about employees' motives to be silent. Therefore, in the present study our aim was to address these gaps in the literature by examining power distance, collectivism, and punishment as determinants of a multidimensional construct of silence. …

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