Leader-Member Exchange and Organizational Communication Satisfaction in Multiple Contexts

By Mueller, Bridget H.; Lee, Jaesub | The Journal of Business Communication, April 2002 | Go to article overview

Leader-Member Exchange and Organizational Communication Satisfaction in Multiple Contexts


Mueller, Bridget H., Lee, Jaesub, The Journal of Business Communication


This study explored the extent to which the quality of leader-member exchange (LMX) affects subordinates' perceptions of communication satisfaction in multiple contexts. Findings indicate that the quality of LMX strongly influences subordinates' communication satisfaction in interpersonal (personal feedback and supervisory communication), group (co-worker communication and organizational integration in the workgroup), and organizational contexts (corporate communication, communication climate, and organizational media quality). Further, subordinates' LMXs with their superiors are tightly coupled with larger group and organizational contexts with respect to communication satisfaction. However, the strength of coupling decreases as the sphere of influence" becomes more distanced and less direct.

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An essential premise of leader-member exchange (LMX) theory is that leaders and supervisors have limited amounts of personal, social, and organizational resources (e.g., time, energy, role, discretion, and positional power) and, thus, distribute such resources among their subordinates selectively (e.g., Dansereau, Graen, & Haga, 1975; Graen & Scandura, 1987; Graen & Uhi-Bien, 1995). Leaders do not interact with all subordinates equally, which, over time, results in the formation of LMXs that vary in quality. Interactions in higher-quality LMXs are characterized by increased levels of information exchange, mutual support, informal influence, trust, and greater negotiating latitude and input in decisions. Lower-quality LMXs are characterized by more formal supervision, less support, and less trust and attention from the leader.

LMX theory has enhanced our understanding of the leadership communication process between superiors and subordinates. In particular, earlier research explicated how the quality of LMX affects subordinates' and superiors' communication in areas such as discourse patterns, upward influence, communication expectations, cooperative communication, perceived organizational justice, and decision making practices (e.g., Fairhurst, 1993; Fairhurst & Chandler, 1989; Jablin, 1987; Krone, 1992; Lee, 1997, 2001; Lee & Jablin, 1995; Yukl & Fu, 1999). However, a review of the related research reveals an important omission in LMX-related studies; that is, LMX research has not explored communication satisfaction as a meaningful dependent variable. Hecht (1978a) argued that "an understanding of communication outcomes such as satisfaction is a prerequisite to an integrative explanation of communication behavior" (p. 350).

LMX between superiors and subordinates constitutes a social system that operates within larger systems of the workgroup and networks. As such, LMX exists not in isolation, but embedded within such systems (Jablin & Krone, 1994). Thus, the LMX is not only influenced by, but also influences such larger systems (Euske & Roberts, 1987). Based on systems perspective, Graen and Uhl-Bien (1995) argued that research involving LMX theory should examine impacts of the dyadic LMX relationship on larger systems of groups and organizations (i.e., "group and network levels"). For instance, they recommended that scholars should explore how the LMX dyadic relationship affects communication attitudes, behaviors, and perceptions in larger collectives of workgroups and organization-wide networks. To date, communication satisfaction has been considered in three distinctive contexts: interpersonal, group, and organization (e.g., Clampitt & Downs, 1993; Hecht, 1978a). Therefore, the present study extends the extant research by ex amining the extent to which the quality of LMX affects perceived communication satisfaction among subordinates within interpersonal, group, and organizational contexts.

Literature Review

Communication satisfaction typically refers to "the affective response to the fulfillment of expectation-type standards" in message exchange processes and "symbolizes an enjoyable, fulfilling experience" (Hecht, 1978a, p. …

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