Are Supervisors Fair Mediators? the Effects of Personality Traits and Age Difference on Expected Mediation Fairness

By Chi, Shu-Cheng Steve; Friedman, Raymond A. et al. | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, February 2009 | Go to article overview

Are Supervisors Fair Mediators? the Effects of Personality Traits and Age Difference on Expected Mediation Fairness


Chi, Shu-Cheng Steve, Friedman, Raymond A., Yang, Mei-Yu, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal


Disputes among colleagues occur in organizations every day. Who can employees turn to for help in resolving these conflicts? Some organizations offer formal alternative dispute resolution (ADR) processes, including access to professional mediators. At least as often, however, individual managers who are not formal mediators are called upon to assist their subordinates in resolving disputes. As Mintzberg (1973) has shown, managers spend a lot of their work time resolving disputes for their subordinates. For this type of informal mediation to work well, managers who are called upon to mediate must be deemed acceptable to all the parties involved; a mediator's expected fairness is often a key determinant of disputant satisfaction (Thibaut & Walker, 1975; Tyler, 1986). We define mediation fairness as the quality of the treatment that subordinates expect to receive from mediators, such as respect or sensitivity, during the mediation process (cf. DeCremer & Tyler, 2007; Smith, Tyler, Huo, Ortiz, & Lind, 1998; Tyler & Lind, 1992).

What qualities must a supervisor possess to be perceived by subordinates as someone who will be a fair mediator? In this study we explored this question, focusing in particular on two characteristics of potential mediators that might affect perceived fairness: supervisors' self-efficacy in mediation (Bandura, 1986, 1991; Wood & Bandura, 1989) and their personality traits. We also examined whether or not age difference between a supervisor and a subordinate influences the effects of supervisor personality traits.

Supervisors as Potential Mediators

A common way for people to resolve conflicts within organizations (Karambayya & Brett, 1989) is mediation, a process in which a third party facilitates interactions between or among disputants with the goal of helping them reach a resolution. From a procedural justice framework, mediation offers a high degree of process control for the two parties to the dispute, as they may be able to influence the views of the mediators (Thibaut & Walker, 1975).

While the very process of mediation can enhance disputants' sense of fairness of the situation, it also matters to them that mediators behave in a manner deemed to be fair. The Lind and Tyler group-value model (Tyler, 1986; Tyler & Lind, 1992) suggests that an individual's feelings of self-worth are closely linked to his/her perceptions that the group s/he belongs to values him/her. Fair treatment, especially by those in positions of authority, is viewed as one indicator of being valued. Moreover, feeling fairly treated carries important benefits for organizations; when subordinates expect their supervisors to resolve a conflict fairly, they are also likely to expect the supervisor to be receptive to their decisions. As a result, the employee is likely to display more positive behaviors within the organization (Colquitt, Conlon, Wesson, Porter, & Ng, 2001). Supervisory actions that support such perceptions of fairness include treating subordinates with respect, dignity, politeness, and consideration.

In the following sections, we examine how two sets of variables might affect perceived mediation fairness: supervisors' self-efficacy in mediation and their personality traits.

Supervisors' Self-Efficacy

Mediator competence has been proposed as a significant factor in the successful mediation of disputes (e.g., Landsberger, 1960). Mediator competence may include the following qualities: intellectual capability, the ability to come up with solutions, having knowledge in relevant domains such as law and labor relations, and so on. Managers may gain subordinates' confidence by showing that they can resolve differences successfully and come up with win-win solutions.

According to Bandura's social cognitive theory (Bandura, 1986, 1991; Wood & Bandura, 1989), we all hold beliefs about our individual ability to mobilize people and take action to meet situational demands. …

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