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«UNDERSTANDING EMPLOYEES’ BEHAVIORAL REACTIONS TO AGGRESSION IN ORGANIZATIONS by MARIE S. MITCHELL B.S., George Mason University, 1993 M.A.H.R., ...»

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Socioemotional Needs. Martin (1984) argued that the need for social contact is a central motivator for human behavior. In other words, individuals generally wish to seek out positive interactions with others and in doing so, want others to view them favorably. Four different types of social rewards result from social contact: (1) positive stimulation (i.e., a sense of belonging), (2) attention or praise, (3) emotional support, and (4) a benchmark for social comparisons (Hill, 1987). In essence, social contact produces certain socioemotional needs.

Armeli, Eisenberger, Fasolo, and Lynch (1998) speculated that individuals vary in their desire for certain socioemotional needs. They believe socio-emotional needs are comprised of (1) the need for praise and recognition, (2) the need to receive affection (e.g., need for affiliation), (3) the need for consolation and sympathy when experiencing stress (e.g., need for emotional support), and (4) the need for social approval.

Research suggests that these characteristics influence behaviors such as support or helpseeking (e.g., Nadler, 1983), particularly when an individual fails to resolve problems independently (e.g., DePaulo, 1982; DePaulo, Dull, Greenberg, & Swaim, 1989; Rosen, 1983).

Thus, individuals with high socioemotional needs engage in actions to enhance emotional support (Hill, 1991). At the same time, high socioemotional needs individuals avoid or “retreat” from situations that are threatening or that would induce negative affiliation or negative emotions (e.g., Exline, 1963; Mehrabian & Ksionzky, 1974; Terhune, 1968). Therefore, research suggests that victims high in socioemotional needs heighten efforts to seek or facilitate help (Hill, 1991).

This review suggests that when individuals have a high need for socioemotional contact and are also victim to aggression, they are more likely than others to react non-aggressively.

Because high socioemotional-needs individuals retreat from contentious and negative situations, they are far less likely to aggress against others (either toward the harmdoer or other targets) and, therefore, far more likely to avoid or retreat from the harm (i.e., withdrawal). However, behaviors that involve constructive problem-solving allow for the victim to address the problem through social contact. Whether the victim seeks to resolve the matter with the harmdoer positively or resolve the harm by seeking others’ help, these constructive problem-solving behaviors appeal to the basic needs that are desired in an individual with high socioemotional

needs (e.g., praise, affiliation, consolation or approval). Thus, I predict:

Proposition 8: The greater the degree of socioemotional needs of a victim, the more likely the victim will engage in constructive problem-solving and withdrawal, and the less likely the victim will engage in retaliatory aggression and displaced aggression.

Negative Affect. Negative affect (NA) is a higher-order personality variable, describing the extent to which an individual experiences negative emotions and anxiety across time and situations (Watson & Clark, 1984). High NA individuals experience a variety of aversive mood states, such as anger, contempt, disgust, fear, guilt and nervousness (Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988). Spielberger (1972) argued that individuals high in NA are hyper-responsive to psychosocial stressors. Thus, high NA individuals respond negatively to organizational constraints and interpersonal conflict (e.g., DeJonge, Dormann et al., 2001; VanKatwk, Fox, Spector, & Kelloway, 2000).

Not surprisingly, individuals high in NA report higher levels of stress and more poorly cope with perceived negative situations (Clark & Watson, 1986). Thus, NA increases negative emotions (e.g., Larsen & Katelaar, 1991) and aversive reactions (e.g., Berkowitz, 1983, 1989;

Geen, 1990). Berkowitz (1983) contends that individuals high in NA are particularly sensitive to negative interactions and, therefore, are more likely to respond destructively. These sentiments are echoed in the workplace aggression literature (e.g., Andersson & Pearson, 1999; Martinko & Zellars, 1998), which has shown that NA is related to CWBs (e.g., Fox, Spector, & Miles, 2001), aggression (Douglas & Martinko, 2001; Grandey, Dickter, & Sin, 2004), organizational retaliatory behaviors (Skarlicki, Folger, & Tesluk, 1999), and workplace deviance (Aquino et al., 1999). Further, research also shows NA strengthens the relationship between stress and withdrawal behaviors (e.g., job burnout, Zellars & Perrewé, 2000; turnover, Judge, 1993).

Thus, research suggests high NA individuals would be hyper-sensitive to perceived aggression, which would heighten negative and destructive reactions. Specifically, given the tendency toward aggression, victims with high NA would most likely react with retaliatory aggression and displaced aggression. Further, given the contemptuous and pessimistic nature of high NA individuals, these victims most likely will feel the situation cannot be changed and, therefore, engage in withdrawal behaviors rather than constructive solutions (i.e., constructive

problem-solving). As such, I predict:

Proposition 9: The greater the degree of negative affect, the more likely the victim will engage in retaliatory aggression, displaced aggression, and withdrawal, and the less likely the victim will engage in constructive problem-solving.





Trait Anger. Trait anger is an individual tendency to perceive a wide range of situations as anger-provoking (Fox & Spector, 1999). Research has shown that high trait anger individuals more easily experience anger when they encounter annoying conditions (Spielberger, 1996;

Spielberger, Krasner, & Solomon, 1988). Anger itself heightens the likelihood that the individual will blame others for unfair actions (Keltner, Ellsworth, & Edwards, 1993), and therefore anger “colors” perceptions to more negative attributions (Bodenhauser, Sheppard, & Kramer, 1994). Further, heightened states of anger are strongly related to property destruction, physical assaults, and other unsavory behaviors (Spielberger et al., 1991). Given this review, it seems considering the influence of trait anger is highly relevant in the context of reactions to perceived aggression.

Berkowitz (2001) argued that anger promotes the urge to hurt targets, and when enacted on, the ensuing behavior is purposeful, intentional harm (or, stated differently, aggression; cf.

Kassinove & Sukhodolsky, 1995). For example, Deffenbacher (1992) found that individuals with high trait anger had intense reactions to personal attacks. Similarly, workplace aggression research has shown that individuals high in trait anger are more likely to engage in aggression.

For example, Douglas and Martinko (2001) found that high trait angry individuals held more favorable revenge attitudes because they believed that the offender purposefully and unnecessarily attacked them. Fox and Spector (1999) found trait anger was the strongest predictor of counterproductive workplace behaviors. Thus, research suggests trait anger to heighten aggressive reactions.

Trait anger also appears to inhibit non-aggressive reactions. A study by Kassinove et al.

(Kassinove, Roth, Owens, & Fuller, 2002) investigated the relationship of trait anger on outcomes of a prisoner’s dilemma simulating wartime interactions. They argued that because trait angry individuals are more likely to experience anger with little provocation, trait angry individuals would also be disinclined to engage in neutral or cooperative solutions. Consistent with their predictions, trait anger strongly influenced competitive reactions and lessened noncompetitive reactions. These findings are consistent with Deffenbacher (1992), who found that high trait anger was associated with less constructive coping and more aggressive reactions to personal attacks.

Based on these arguments, I believe that individuals high on trait anger will be more likely to react with aggression (either retaliatory or displaced), and less likely to respond with more neutral (i.e., withdrawal) or cooperative behaviors (i.e., constructive problem-solving).

Thus, I predict:

Proposition 10: The greater the degree of trait anger, the more likely the victim will engage in retaliatory aggression and displaced aggression, and the less likely the victim will engage in constructive problem-solving and withdrawal.

Type A Behavior Pattern (TABP). TABP is an epidemiological construct, characterized by excessive impatience, competitiveness, irritability, and hostility (Evans, Palsane, & Carrere, 1987; Glass, 1977). Type A individuals strive to achieve and generally prefer to work alone and, when they work with others, they try to control the situation (Miller, Lack, & Asroff, 1985). In contrast, low Type A individuals (called Type B) have a calm disposition and deal with interpersonal conflict effectively (Baron, 1989). Research investigating the relationship of TABP and aggression demonstrates that Type A individuals are more likely to engage in aggressive reactions (e.g., Baron, Russell, & Arms, 1985; Carver & Glass, 1978). Further, research suggests that Type A individuals are naturally hostile people, who like to aggress toward others to inflict harm as well as to release anger (Strube, Turner, Cero, Stevens, & Hinchey, 1984). Not surprisingly, workplace aggression research also shows the influence of TABP on workplace aggression (e.g., Baron, 1989; Baron, Neuman, & Geddes, 1999). Thus, Type A personality individuals are more likely to engage in aggression.

However, research also suggests that Type A individuals may seek non-aggressive means to regain control in terms of interpersonal conflicts (e.g., Baron et al., 1985; Miller et al., 1985).

For example, in addition to retaliating against the provoker, some Type A individual have sought out positive solutions when provoked (Miller et al., 1985; Strube et al., 1984). In this way, Type A individuals in their attempts to regain control may do so constructively (i.e., constructive problem-solving) or destructively (i.e., retaliation). With this said, Type A individuals are very control-centric, and have a very deterministic nature (Miller, Lack, & Asroff, 1985). As a result, I believe withdrawal behaviors are unlikely, as they may communicate failure to achieve or control of the aggressor. However, because Type A individuals have the propensity for hostility, they also are more likely to express hostilities through aggression (Baron, 1989; Baron et al., 1999).

Therefore, I predict:

Proposition 11: The greater the degree of Type A Behavior Pattern, the more likely the victim will engage in retaliatory aggression, displaced aggression, and constructive problem-solving, and the less likely the victim will engage in withdrawal.

Perceived Powerlessness. Powerlessness is defined as “the perceived inability to affect one’s environment” (Bennett, 1998: 223). Generally speaking, individuals become powerless at work in highly uncertain situations (e.g., cost cutting, layoffs, right-sizing; cf. Bennett, 1998).

High levels of uncertainty are often accompanied by levels of distrust and stress, and lower levels of morale (Brockner, 1988). Ashforth (1989) argues that powerlessness derives from an individual’s lack of participation in decision-making and lack of autonomy within the nature of the person’s work. Individuals who experience powerlessness feel socially isolated and helpless within their work environment (Ashforth, 1989). Ashforth further argues that powerlessness promotes psychological reactance, whereby an individual will engage in behaviors to try to regain control.

In contrast, Bennett (1998) argued that individuals who experience powerlessness do not want to “rock the boat” or engage in behaviors that may lead to future punishments. From this perspective, powerlessness constrains psychological reactance and subsequent reactions toward the source of the harm (e.g., retaliation or constructive problem-solving). Simply put, the act of feeling powerless means the objective conditions of the situation cannot be changed directly.

(Thinking of powerlessness in this fashion is consistent with Ashforth’s (1989) conceptualization of “helplessness,” which he argues is the cognitive consequence of powerlessness.) Consistent with control theory principles (Rothbaum et al., 1982), Bennett argues powerless individuals engage in more secondary control behaviors. They substitute “hard” interactions with evasive behaviors.

Individuals who feel powerless, therefore, choose alternative and low-key ways to regain control. Research supports this assertion. Buss (1961) found that victims of abuse released hostilities by aggressing against other individuals who were not the source of the provocation;

yet the behaviors they engaged in were particularly discreet, making it difficult to identify the culprit. Ashforth (1989) found that individuals who felt they were unable to change the objective conditions engaged in work alienation behaviors, meaning they disengaged or become uninvolved in job tasks. In contrast, Bennett (1998) found that providing employees with empowerment training improved absenteeism by 40% and significantly increased productivity.

These results suggests that powerlessness influences reactions directed against targets not the source of the harm (i.e., displaced aggression and withdrawal), and lessens direct reactions to

regain control (i.e., retaliatory aggression and constructive problem-solving). Therefore:

Proposition 12: The greater the degree of powerlessness, the more likely the victim will engage in displaced aggression and withdrawal, and the less likely the victim will engage in retaliatory aggression and constructive problem-solving.

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