When things go wrong at work: expressions of organizational dissent as interpersonal influence
Garner, Johny Thomas
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This dissertation examines the types of messages used for organizational dissent, and argues for connections between dissent messages, choice of audience and influence goals. The organizational dissent literature has explored the situations that may trigger dissent and the variables that lead a dissenter to approach various audiences, but few studies have examined dissent messages. Additionally, this line of research has tended to neglect coworkers as a possible audience for dissent and has been characterized as atheoretical (Waldron, 1999). Much of the research on interpersonal influence has examined influence in romantic relationships, but influence may play an important role in workplace relationships as well, suggesting that interpersonal influence is an appropriate theoretical perspective from which to examine dissent. This dissertation examines the messages, audiences, and goals associated with dissent using a two-part study with interviews and surveys. Messages differed according to audience, but, surprisingly, not according to the quality of relationship between the dissenter and the audience. Dissent expressed to supervisors is more likely to involve message types such as assertiveness, rational arguments, solution presentation, humor, ingratiation, sanctions, threatening resignation, while dissent expressed to coworkers is more likely to involve message types such as displaying emotion or coalitions. The primary goal of expressing emotion and the secondary goal of identity were most prevalent in terms of considerations as study participants expressed dissent. The analyses indicate that the goal of expressing emotion was significantly related to messages of displaying emotion, goals of providing guidance or changing opinion were significantly more associated with solution presentation than with asking for information, the goal of gaining assistance was significantly more associated with coalitions, and the goal of relational resource was significantly less associated with messages threatening resignation. These results suggest that interpersonal influence offers a fruitful perspective from which to view dissent messages, and more research is needed to examine the goals associated with workplace influence as the goals that motivate interpersonal interactions differ from the goals that motivate organizational dissent. Additionally, these results indicate that the position of a person is more important than a relationship in determining how a person will express dissent.