The Roles of Emotion, Morality, and Political Affiliation in Predicting Retaliation of Workplace Incivility between Democrats and Republicans



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The present study examines differences in political perspectives and moral identity as facilitators of retaliation of workplace incivility. It is proposed that following uncivil treatment, emotional appraisals of uncivil treatment will influence targets' retaliatory behavior; individuals who feel angry or demoralized after being treated uncivilly will be more likely to retaliate than individuals who do not negatively appraise incivility. In addition, political affiliation and moral identity are posited as moderators of the relationship between experiencing incivility and emotionally appraising the experience, as well as the relationship between emotional appraisal and retaliation.

This study utilized a sample of 355 participants who completed an online survey regarding their experiences with incivility three weeks before and one week after the 2008 U.S. presidential election. Results indicate that Democrats most frequently retaliated against Republicans at high levels of received incivility from Republicans, yet Republicans engaged in the most retaliatory incivility against Democrats at low levels of incivility from Democrats. Furthermore, internalization buffered the likelihood of retaliation, while symbolization enhanced it. In three-way interactions predicting retaliatory incivility, low internalization and high symbolization Democrats most frequently retaliated against Republicans; unexpectedly, high symbolization Democrats also most frequently retaliated against Democrats. Predicting emotional appraisals from received incivility, symbolization enhanced relationships between incivility and appraisals. High internalization Republicans reported the greatest increase in anger when treated uncivilly by Democrats. Predicting retaliation from appraisals, Republicans retaliated against Democrats most frequently when angered or demoralized, but Democrats did not report retaliating against Republicans. Additionally, high symbolization Republicans reported retaliating against other Republicans when angered or demoralized.

Results were not completely aligned with past theory and research, but they generally indicate that morality plays a large role in the prediction of emotional appraisals and retaliation in response to uncivil treatment. Furthermore, morality seems to be a more important predictor of retaliation than social identity processes. Finally, it is clear that emotions relate to the receipt and retaliation of incivility, and future research should clarify these relationships. This study contributes to the literature by examining how social issues that are seemingly unrelated to the workplace can negatively affect interpersonal interactions at work.