Chapter 13: Interpersonal Relationships at Work

Second to spending time with your family, you’ll probably end up spending more time working than anything else you do for the rest of your life (besides sleeping). Figure 13.1 shows you what the average full-time working person’s day is like.

Average hours per day spent in selected activities on days worked by employment status: 0.97 hours: household activities 1.06 hours: Eating and drinking 0.59 hours: Caring for others 0.9 hours: Other 3.01 hours: Leisure and sports 8.64 hours: sleeping and personal care 8.9 hours: work and work-related activities.
Figure 13.1 Daily Life Breakdown

We spend more time with the people we work with than the people we live with during the five-day workweek. So, it shouldn’t be too surprising that our workplace relationships tend to be very important to our overall quality of life. In previous chapters, we’ve looked at the importance of a range of different types of relationships. In this chapter, we’re going to explore some areas directly related to workplace interpersonal relationships, including professionalism, leader-follower relationships, workplace friendships, romantic relationships in the workplace, and problematic workplace relationships. Finally, we’ll end this chapter by discussing essential communication skills for work in the 21st Century.

13.1 The Requirements of Professionalism

Learning Objectives

  1. Define the terms profession and professionalism.
  2. Define the term “ethics” and recall several modern ethical lapses in organizations.
  3. Understand the importance of respecting one’s coworkers.
  4. Explain the concept of personal responsibility in the workplace.
  5. Differentiate between formal and informal language.

What is professionalism? A is an occupation that involves mastery of complex knowledge and skills through prolonged training, education, or practical experience. Becoming a member of a specific profession doesn’t happen overnight. Whether you seek to be a public relations expert, lawyer, doctor, teacher, welder, electrician, and so on, each profession involves that interested parties invest themselves in learning to become a professional or a member of a profession who earns their living through specified expert activity. It’s much easier to define the terms “profession” and “professional” than it is to define the term “professionalism” because each profession will have its take on what it means to be a professional within a given field.

According to the United States Department of Labor,1 professionalism “does not mean wearing a suit or carrying a briefcase; rather, it means conducting oneself with responsibility, integrity, accountability, and excellence. It means communicating effectively and appropriately and always finding a way to be productive.” The U.S. Department of Labor’s book Skills to Pay the Bills: Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success goes on to note:

Professionalism isn’t one thing; it’s a combination of qualities. A professional employee arrives on time for work and manages time effectively. Professional workers take responsibility for their own behavior and work effectively with others. High quality work standards, honesty, and integrity are also part of the package. Professional employees look clean and neat and dress appropriately for the job. Communicating effectively and appropriately for the workplace is also an essential part of professionalism.2

The Requirements of Professionalism

As you can see here, professionalism isn’t a single “thing” that can be labeled. Instead, involves the aims and behaviors that demonstrate an individual’s level of competence expected by a professional within a given profession. By the word “aims,” we mean that someone who exhibits professionalism is guided by a set of goals in a professional setting. Whether the aim is to complete a project on time or help ensure higher quarterly incomes for their organization, professionalism involves striving to help one’s organization achieve specific goals. By “behaviors,” we mean specific ways of behaving and communicating within an organizational environment. Some common behaviors can include acting ethically, respecting others, collaborating effectively, taking personal/professional responsibility, and professionally using language. Let’s look at each of these separately.

Ethics

Every year there are lapses in ethical judgment by organizations and organizational members. For our purposes, let’s look at just two years of ethical lapses.

  1. We saw aviation police officers drag a bloodied pulmonologist off a plane when he wouldn’t give up his seat on United Airlines. 
  2. We saw the beginnings of the #MeToo movement in October 2017 after Alyssa Milano uses the hashtag in response to actor Ashley Judd accusing media mogul Harvey Weinstein of serious sexual misconduct in an article within The New York Times. Since that critical moment, many courageous victims of sexual violence have raised their voices to take on the male elites in our society who had gotten away with these behaviors for decades.[1]
  3. Facebook (among others) was found to have accepted advertisements indirectly paid for by the Kremlin that influenced the 2016 election. The paid advertisements constituted a type of cyber warfare. 
  4. Equifax had a data breach that affected 145 million people (mostly U.S. citizens as well as some British and Canadian customers) and didn’t publicly disclose this for two months. 
  5. The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, committed many ethical lapses during his tenure with the agency prompting his resignation. Some of the ethical lapses included ordering raises for two aides even when White House rejected them, spending $3.5 million (twice times as much as his predecessor) on taxpayer-funded security, using that security to pick up his favorite moisturizing lotion and dry-cleaning, renting a room from a lobbyist who had dealings with the EPA for $50 per night, installing a $43,000 private phone booth in his office that allegedly was used once, spending $124,000 on first-class flights, purchasing two season-ticket seats at a University of Kentucky basketball game from a billionaire coal executive, tried to use his position to get his wife a Chick-fil-A franchise, and others. 

Sadly, these ethical lapses are still frequent in corporate America, and they often come with huge lawsuit settlements and/or jail time.

The word “ethics” actually is derived from the Greek word ethos, which means the nature or disposition of a culture.3 From this perspective, ethics then involves the moral center of a culture that governs behavior. Without getting too deep, let’s just say that philosophers debate the very nature of ethics, and they have described a wide range of different philosophical perspectives on what constitutes ethics. For our purposes, is the judgmental attachment to whether something is good, right, or just.

In the business world, we often talk about business ethics, which involves things like not stealing from a company; not lying to one’s boss, coworkers, or customers/clients; not taking bribes, payoffs, or kickbacks; taking credit for someone else’s work; abusing and belittling someone in the workplace; or simply letting other people get away with unethical behavior. For example, if you know your organization has a zero-tolerance policy for workplace discrimination and you know that one supervisor is purposefully not hiring pregnant women because “they’ll just be leaving on maternity leave soon anyway,” then you are just as responsible as that supervisor. We might also add, that discriminating against someone who is pregnant or can get pregnant is also a violation of Equal Employment Opportunity law, so you can see that often the line between ethics and rules (or laws) can be blurred.

From a communication perspective, there are also ethical issues that you should be aware of. W. Charles Redding, the father of organizational communication, broke down unethical organizational communication into six specific categories.4

Reprinted with permission from Wrench, Punyanunt, and Ward’s (2014, Flat World Knowledge) book Organizational communication: Practice, Research, and Theory.
An organizational communication act is unethical if it is Such organizational communication unethically
coercive
  • abuses power or authority
  • unjustifiably invades others’ autonomy
  • stigmatizes dissents
  • restricts freedom of speech
  • refuses to listen
  • uses rules to stifle discussion and complaints
destructive
  • attacks others’ self-esteem, reputations, or feelings
  • disregards other’s values
  • engages in insults, innuendoes, epithets, or derogatory jokes
  • uses put-downs, backstabbing, and character assassination
  • employs so-called “truth” as a weapon
  • violates confidentiality and privacy to gain an advantage
  • withholds constructive feedback
deceptive
  • willfully perverts the truth to deceive, cheat, or defraud
  • sends evasive or deliberately misleading or ambiguous messages
  • employs bureaucratic euphemisms to cover up the truth
intrusive
  • uses hidden cameras
  • taps telephones
  • employs computer technologies to monitor employee behavior
  • disregards legitimate privacy rights
secretive
  • uses silence and unresponsiveness
  • hoards information
  • hides wrongdoing or ineptness
manipulative/exploitative
  • uses demagoguery
  • gains compliance by exploiting fear, prejudice, or ignorance
  • patronizes or is condescending toward others

Table 13.1. Redding’s Typology of Unethical Communication

As you can see, unethical organizational communication is an area many people do not overly consider.

Respect for Others

Our second category related to professionalism is respecting others. In Disney’s 1942 movie, Bambi, Thumper sees the young Bambi learning to walk, which leads to the following interaction with his mother:

Thumper: He doesn’t walk very good, does he?

Mrs. Rabbit: Thumper!

Thumper: Yes, mama?

Mrs. Rabbit: What did your father tell you this morning?

Thumper: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.

Sadly, many people exist in the modern workplace that need a refresher in respect from Mrs. Rabbit today. From workplace bullying to sexual harassment, many people simply do not always treat people with dignity and respect in the workplace. So, what do we mean by treating someone with respect? There are a lot of behaviors one can engage in that are respectful if you’re interacting with a coworker or interacting with leaders or followers. Here’s a list we created of respectful behaviors for workplace interactions:

  • Be courteous, polite, and kind to everyone.
  • Do not criticize or nitpick at little inconsequential things.
  • Do not engage in patronizing or demeaning behaviors.
  • Don’t engage in physically hostile body language.
  • Don’t roll your eyes when your coworkers are talking.
  • Don’t use an aggressive tone of voice when talking with coworkers.
  • Encourage coworkers to express opinions and ideas.
  • Encourage your coworkers to demonstrate respect to each other as well.
  • Listen to your coworkers openly without expressing judgment before they’ve finished speaking.
  • Listen to your coworkers without cutting them off or speaking over them.
  • Make sure you treat all of your coworkers fairly and equally.
  • Make sure your facial expressions are appropriate and not aggressive.
  • Never engage in verbally aggressive behavior: insults, name-calling, rumor mongering, disparaging, and putting people or their ideas down.
  • Praise your coworkers more often than you criticize them. Point out when they’re doing great things, not just when they’re doing “wrong” things.
  • Provide an equal opportunity for all coworkers to provide insight and input during meetings.
  • Treat people the same regardless of age, gender, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, etc.…
  • When expressing judgment, focus on criticizing ideas, and not the person.

Now that we’ve looked a wide range of ways that you can show your respect for your coworkers, we would be remiss if we didn’t bring up one specific area where you can demonstrate respect, the language we use. In a recent meeting, one of our coauthors was reporting on some work that was being completed on campus and let people in the meeting know that some people were already “grandfathered in” to the pre-existing process. Without really intending to use language that was sex-based, our coauthor had. One of the other people in the room quickly quipped, “or grandmothered.” Upon contemplation, our coauthor realized that the seemingly innocuous use of the phrase “grandfathered in,” which admittedly is very common, is one that has a biological sex connotation that limits it to males. Even though our coauthor’s purpose had never been to engage in sexist language, the English language is filled with sexist language examples, and they come all too quickly to many of us because of tradition and the way we were taught the language. This experience was a perfect reminder for our coauthor about the importance of thinking about sexist and biased language and how it impacts the workplace. Table 13.2 is a list of common sexist or biased language and corresponding inclusive terms that one could use instead.

Sexist or Biased Language Inclusive Term
Businessman business owner, business executive, or business person
cancer victim; AIDS victim cancer patient; person living with AIDS
chairman chairperson or chair
confined to a wheelchair uses a wheelchair
congressman congressperson
Eskimo Inuit or Aleut
fireman firefighters
freshman first-year student
Indian (when referring to U.S. indigenous peoples) Native American or specific tribe
policeman police officer
man or mankind people, humanity, or the human race
man hours working hours
man-made manufactured, machine made, or synthetic
manpower personnel or workforce
Negro or colored African American or Black
old people or elderly senior citizens, mature adults, older adults
Oriental Asian, Asian American, or specific country of origin
postman or mailman postal worker or mail carrier
steward or stewardess flight attendant
suffers from diabetes has diabetes
to man to operate; to staff; to cover
waiter or waitress server

Table 13.2. Replacing Sexist or Biased Language with Inclusive Terms

Mindfulness Activity

image

We live in a world where respect and bias are not always acknowledged in the workplace setting. Sadly, despite decades of anti-discrimination legislation and training, we know this is still a problem. Women, minorities, and other non-dominant groups are still woefully underrepresented in a broad range of organizational positions, from management to CEO. Some industries are better than others, but this problem is still very persistent in the United States. Most of us mindlessly participate in these systems without even being consciously aware. Byron Lee put it this way:

Our brains rapidly categorize people using both obvious and subtler characteristics, and also automatically assign an unconscious evaluation (eg good or bad) and an emotional tone (ie pleasant, neutral or unpleasant) with this memory. Importantly, because these unconscious processes happen without awareness, control, intention or effort, everyone, no matter how fair-minded we might think we are, is unconsciously biased.5

These unconscious biases often lead us to engage in microaggressions against people we view as “other.” Microaggressions are “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”6 Notice that microaggressions can be targeted at women, minorities, and other non-dominant groups. Research has shown us that these unconscious biases effect everything from perceptions of hire ability, to job promotions, to determining who gets laid off, and so many other areas within the workplace.

Byron Lee devised a five-point strategy for engaging in mindful intercultural interactions:

  1. Preparing for your interpersonal encounter by recognizing and gently observing preconceptions, biases, emotions and sensations as part of your ongoing internal experience (Nonjudging). Bringing into awareness an intention to connect (Presence).
  2. Beginning your conversation by remaining open to hear whatever the person may bring (Acceptance), and a willingness to get close to and understand another’s suffering (Empathic Concern).
  3. Bringing a kindly curiosity to your own internal experience and to the experiences shared by the other person throughout the encounter (Beginner’s Mind).
  4. Noticing and letting go of your urge to ‘fix’ the ‘problem’ (Non-striving) and letting the process unfold in its own time (Patience).
  5. The collaborative interaction concludes when you mutually reach a way forward that reflects the other person’s world view and needs (Compassionate Action), and not your own (Letting Go).7

For this activity, we want you to explore some of your own unconscious biases. To start, go to the Implicit Bias Tests website run by Harvard University’s Project Implicit. On their website, you’ll find several tests that examine your unconscious or implicit biases towards various groups. Complete a couple of these tests and then ponder what your results say about your own unconscious biases. After completing the tests, answer the following questions:

  1. Were you surprised by your scores on the Implicit Bias Tests? Why?
  2. How do you think your own implicit biases impact how you interact with others interpersonally?
  3. How can you be more mindful of your interactions with people from different groups in the future?

Personal Responsibility

Let’s face it; we all make mistakes. Making mistakes is a part of life. refers to an individual’s willingness to be accountable for what they feel, think, and behave. Whether we’re talking about our attitudes, our thought processes, or physical/communicative behaviors, personal responsibility is simply realizing that we are in the driver’s seat and not blaming others for our current circumstances. Now, this is not to say that there are never external factors that impede our success. Of course, there are. This is not to say that certain people have a leg-up on life because of a privileged background, of course, some people have. However, personal responsibility involves differentiating between those things we can control and those things that are outside of our control. For example, I may not be able to control a coworker who decides to yell at me, but I can control how I feel about that coworker, how I think about that coworker, and how I choose to respond to that coworker. Here are some ways that you can take personal responsibility in your own life (or in the workplace):

  • Acknowledge that you are responsible for your choices in the workplace.
  • Acknowledge that you are responsible for how you feel at work.
  • Acknowledge that you are responsible for your behaviors at work.
  • Accept that your choices are yours alone, so you can’t blame someone else for them.
  • Accept that your sense of self-efficacy and self-esteem are yours.
  • Accept that you can control your stress and feelings of burnout.
  • Decide to invest in your self-improvement.
  • Decide to take control of your attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors.
  • Decide on specific professional goals and make an effort and commitment to accomplish those goals.

Although you may have the ability to take responsibility for your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, not everyone in the workplace will do the same. Most of us will come in contact with coworkers who do not take personal responsibility. Dealing with coworkers who have a million and one excuses can be frustrating and demoralizing.

occurs any time an individual attempts to shift the blame for an individual’s behavior from reasons more central to the individual to sources outside of their control in the attempt to make themselves look better and more in control.8 For example, an individual may explain their tardiness to work by talking about how horrible the traffic was on the way to work instead of admitting that they slept in late and left the house late. People make excuses because they fear that revealing the truth would make them look bad or out of control. In this example, waking up late and leaving the house late is the fault of the individual, but they blame the traffic to make themself look better and in control even though they were late.

Excuse-making happens in every facet of life, but excuse-making in the corporate world can be highly problematic. For example, research has shown that when front-line service providers engage in excuse-making, they are more likely to lose return customers as a result.9 In one study, when salespeople attempted to excuse their lack of ethical judgment on their customer’s lack of ethics, supervisors tended to punish more severely those who engaged in excuse-making than those who had not.10 Of course, even an individual’s peers can become a little annoyed (or downright disgusted) by a colleague who always has a handy excuse for their behavior. For this reason, Amy Nordam recommends using the ERROR method when handling a situation where your behavior was problematic: Empathy, Responsibility, Reason, Offer Reassurance.11 Here is an example Nordam uses to illustrate the ERROR method:

I hate that you [burden placed on person] because of me (Empathy). I should have thought things out better (Responsibility), but I got caught up in [reason for behavior] (Reason). Next time I’ll [preventative action] (Offer Reassurance).

As you can see, the critical parts of this response involve validating the other person, taking responsibility, and providing an explanation for how you’ll behave in the future to avoid similar problems.

Language Use

In the workplace, the type of language and how we use language is essential. In a 2016 study conducted by PayScale,12 researchers surveyed 63,924 managers. The top 3 Hard-Skills managers reported that new college graduates lack are writing proficiency (44%), public speaking (39%), and data analysis (36%). The top 3 Soft Skills the managers reported that new college graduates lack are critical thinking/problem-solving (60%), attention to detail (56%), and communication (46%). One of the most important factors of professionalism in today’s workplace is effective written and oral communication. From the moment someone sends in a resume with a cover letter, their language skills are being evaluated, so knowing how to use both formal language effectively and jargon/specialized language is paramount for success in the workplace.

Formal Language

is a specific writing and spoken style that adheres to strict conventions of grammar. This is in contrast to informal language, which is more common when we speak. In the workplace, there are reasons why someone would use both formal and informal language. Table 13.3 provides examples of formal and informal language choices.

Characteristic Informal Formal
Contraction I won’t be attending the meeting on Friday. I will not be attending the meeting on Friday.
Phrasal Verbs The report spelled out the need for more resources. The report illustrated the need for more resources.
Slang/
Colloquialism
The nosedive in our quarterly earnings came out of left field. The downturn in our quarterly earnings was unexpected.
First-Person Pronouns I considered numerous research methods before deciding to use an employee satisfaction survey. Numerous research methods were considered before deciding to use an employee satisfaction survey.
We need to come together to complete the organization’s goals. The people within the organization must work towards the organization’s goals.

Table 13.3 Formal and Informal Language Choices

As you can see from Table 13.3, formal language is less personal and more professional in tone than informal language. Some key factors of formal language include complex sentences, use of full words, and the third person. , on the other hand, is more colloquial or common in tone; it contains simple, direct sentences; uses contractions and abbreviations, and allows for a more personal approach that includes emotional displays. For people entering the workplace, learning how to navigate both formal and informal language is very beneficial because different circumstances will call for both in the workplace. If you’re writing a major report for shareholders, then knowing how to use formal language is very important. On the other hand, if you’re a PR professional speaking on behalf of an organization, speaking to the media using formal language could make you (and your organization) look distant and disconnected, so using informal language can help in this case.

Use of Jargon/Specialized Language

Every industry is going to be filled with specialized or the specialized or technical language particular to a specific profession, occupation, or group that is either meaningless or difficult for outsiders to understand. For example, if I informed that we conducted a “factor analysis with a varimax rotation,” most of your heads would immediately start to spin. However, for those of us who study human communication from a social scientific perspective, we would all know what that phrase means because we learned it during our training in graduate school. If you walked into a hospital and heard an Emergency Department (ED) physician referring to the GOMER in bay 9, most of you would be equally perplexed. Every job has some jargon, so part of being a professional is learning the jargon within your industry and peripherally related sectors as well. For example, if you want to be a pharmaceutical sales representative, learning some of the jargon of an ED (notice they’re not called ERs anymore). Trust us, watching the old television show ER isn’t going to help you learn this jargon very well either.13

Instead, you have to spend time within an organization or field to pick up the necessary jargon. However, you can start this process as an undergraduate by joining student groups associated with specific fields. If you want to learn the jargon of public relations, join the Public Relations Student Society of America. If you want to go into training and development, becoming a student member of the Association for Talent Development. Want to go into nonprofit work, become a member of the Association for Volunteer Administration or the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network. If you do not have a student chapter of one of these groups on your campus, then find a group on LinkedIn or another social networking site aimed at professionals. One of the great things about modern social networking is the ability to watch professionals engaging in professional dialogue virtually. By watching the discussions in LinkedIn groups, you can start to pick up on the major issues of a field and some of the everyday jargon.

Key Takeaways

  • A profession is an occupation that involves mastery of complex knowledge and skills through prolonged training, education, or practical experience. Professionalism, on the other hand, involves the aims and behaviors that demonstrate an individual’s level of competence expected by a professional within a given profession.
  • The term ethics is defined as the judgmental attachment to whether something is good, right, or just. In our society, there have been several notable ethical lapses, including such companies as United Airlines, Facebook, Equifax, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Starting in Fall 2017 the #MeToo movement started shining a light on a wide range of ethical issues involving the abuse of one’s power to achieve sexual desires in the entertainment industry.
  • Respecting our coworkers is one of the most essential keys to developing a positive organizational experience. There are many simple things we can do to show our respect, but one crucial feature is thinking about the types of langue we use. Avoid using language that is considered biased and marginalizing.
  • Personal responsibility refers to an individual’s willingness to be accountable for what they feel, think, and behave. Part of being a successful coworker is taking responsibility for your behaviors, communication, and task achievement in the workplace.
  • Formal language is a specific writing and spoken style that adheres to strict conventions of grammar. Conversely, informal language is more colloquial or common in tone; it contains simple, direct sentences; uses contractions and abbreviations, and allows for a more personal approach that includes emotional displays.

Exercises

  • Think of a time in an organization where you witnessed unethical organizational communication. Which of Redding’s typology did you witness? Did you do anything about the unethical organizational communication? Why?
  • Look at the list of respectful behaviors for workplace interactions. How would you react if others violated these respectful behaviors towards you as a coworker? Have you ever been disrespectful in your communication towards coworkers? Why?
  • Why do you think it’s essential to take personal responsibility and avoid excusing making in the workplace? Have you ever found yourself making excuses? Why?

13.2 Leader-Follower Relationships

Learning Objectives

  1. Visual and explain Hersey and Blanchard’s situational-leadership theory, including the four types of leaders.
  2. Describe the concept of leader-member exchange theory and the three stages these relationships go through.
  3. Define Ira Chaleff’s concept of followership and describe the four different followership styles.

Perspectives on Leadership

When you hear the word “leader” what immediately comes to your mind? What about when you hear the word “follower?” The words “leader” and “follower” bring up all kinds of examples (both good and bad) for most of us. We’ve all experienced times when we’ve followed a fantastic leader, and we’ve had times when we’ve worked for a less than an effective leader. At the same time, are we always the best followers? This section is going to examine prevailing theories related to leadership (situational-leadership theory and leader-member exchange theory), and then we’ll end the section discussing the concept of followership.

Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational-Leadership Theory

Leader supportive behavior is on the y axis and leader directive behavior is on the x axis, each between Low and High, with low converging at the origin. In a curve starting at low Leader supportive behavior and low leader directive behavior is Delegating, then Supporting at low leader directive behavior and high leader supported behavior, then Coaching wich is high leader supportive behavior and high leader directive behavior, then Directing which is high leader directive behavior and low leader supportive behavior. Below the x axis is Developed on the low side and developing on the high with a two way arrow connecting them.
Figure 13. 2 Situational-Leadership

One of the most commonly discussed models of leadership is Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard Situational-Leadership Model (https://www.situational.com/). The model is divided into two dimensions: task (leader directive behavior) and relational (leader supportive behavior).14 Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational-Leadership Model starts with the basic idea that not all employees have the same needs. Some employees need a lot more hand-holding and guidance than other employees, and some employees need more relational contact than others. As such, Hersey and Blanchard defined leadership along two continuums: supportive and directive. occurs when a leader is focused on providing relational support for their followers; whereas, involves overseeing the day-to-day tasks that a follower accomplishes. As a leader and follower progress in their relationship, Hersey and Blanchard argue that the nature of their relationship often changes. Figure 13.2 contains the basic model proposed by Hersey and Blanchard and is ultimately broken into four leadership styles: directing, coaching, supporting, and delegating.15

Directing

Hersey and Blanchard’s first type of leader is the directing leader. Directing leaders set the basic roles an individual has and the tasks an individual needs to accomplish. After setting these roles and tasks, the leader then monitors and oversees these followers closely. From a communication perspective, these leaders tend to make decisions and then communicate them to their followers. There tends to be little to no dialogue about either roles or tasks.

Coaching

Hersey and Blanchard’s second type of leader is the coaching leader. Coaching leaders still set the basic roles and tasks that need to be accomplished by specific followers, but they allow for input from their followers. As such, the communication between coaching leaders and their followers tends to be more interactive instead of one-way. However, the ultimate decisions about roles and tasks are still ultimately the leader’s decision.

Supporting

Hersey and Blanchard’s third type of leader is the supporting leader. As a leader becomes more accustomed to a follower’s ability to accomplish tasks and take responsibility for those tasks, a leader may become more supportive. A supporting leader allows followers to make the day-to-day decisions related to getting tasks accomplished, but determining what tasks need to be accomplished is a mutually agreed upon decision. In this case, the leader is more like a facilitator of a follower’s work instead of dictating the follower’s work.

Delegating

Hersey and Blanchard’s final type of leader is the delegating leader. The delegating leader is one where the follower and leader are mutually involved in the basic decision making and problem-solving process. Still, the ultimate control for accomplishing tasks is left up to the follower. Followers ultimately determine when they need a leader’s support and how much support is needed. As you can see from Figure 13.2, these relationships are ones that are considered highly developed and ultimately involve a level of trust on both sides of the leader-follower relationship.

Leader-Member Exchange Relationships

George Graen16 proposed a different type of theory for understanding leadership. In Graen’s (LMX) theory, leaders have limited resources and can only take on high-quality relationships with a small number of followers. For this reason, some relationships are characterized as high-quality LMX relationships, but most relationships are characterized as low-quality LMX relationships. High-quality LMX relationships are those “characterized by greater input in decisions, mutual support, informal influence, trust, and greater negotiating latitude.”

In contrast, low-quality LMX relationships “are characterized by less support, more formal supervision, little or no involvement in decisions, and less trust and attention from the leader.”17 Ultimately, many positive outcomes happen for a follower who enters into a high LMX relationship with a leader. Before looking at some positive outcomes from high LMX relationships, we’re first going to examine the stages involved in the creation of these relationships.

Stages of LMX Relationships

So, you may be wondering how LMX relationships are developed. George B. Graen and Mary Uhl-Bien18 created a three-stage model for the development of LMX relationships. Figure 13.3 represents the three different stages discussed by Graen and Uhl-Bien: stranger, acquaintance, and partner.

The developmental phase, reciprocity, roles, trust, exchanges, and stage of transformation for stranger stage, acquaintence stage & partner stage. For Strager stage: Creation of partnership, immediate reciprocity, scripted roles, low trust, low quality exchanges, and self interest. For Acquaintance stage, Dev phase of developing partnership, delayed reciprocity, established roles, moderate trust, moderate quality exchanges, and self & team interest. The partner stage is full partner developmental phase, indefinite reciprocity, negotiated roles, high trust, high quality exchanges, and team interest stage of transformation.
Figure 13. 3 Stages of LMX Relationships
Stranger Stage

The first stage of LMX relationships is the stranger stage, and this is the beginning of the creation of an LMX relationship. Most LMX relationships never venture beyond the stranger stage because of the resources needed on both the side of the follower and the leader to progress further.

As you can see from Figure 13.3, the stranger stage is one where their self-interests primarily guide the follower and the leader. These exchanges generally involve what Graen and Uhl-Bien call a “cash and carry” relationship. Cash and carry refers to the idea that some stores don’t utilize credit, so all purchases are made in cash, and customers carry their purchased goods right then. In the stranger stage, interactions between a follower and leader follow this same process. The leader helps the follower and gets something immediately in return. Low levels of trust mark these relationships, and interactions tend to be carried out through scripted forms of communication within the normal hierarchical structure of the organization.

Acquaintance Stage

The second stage of high-quality LMX relationships is the acquaintance stage or exchanges between a leader and follower become more normalized and aren’t necessarily based on a cash and carry system. According to Graen and Uhl-Bien, “Leaders and followers may begin to share greater information and resources, on both a personal and work level. These exchanges are still limited, however, and constitute a ‘testing’ stage—with the equitable return of favors within a limited time perspective.”19 At this point, neither the leader nor the follower expects to get anything immediately in return within the exchange relationship. Instead, they start seeing this relationship as something that has the potential for long-term benefits for both sides. There also is a switch from purely personal self-interests to a combination of both self-interests and the interests of one’s team or organization.

Partner Stage

The final stage in the development of LMX relationships is the partner stage or the stage where a follower stops being perceived as a follower and starts being perceived as an equal or colleague. A level of maturity marks these relationships. Even though the two people within the exchange relationship may still have titles of leader and follower, there is a sense of equality between the individuals within the relationship.

Outcomes of High LMX Relationships

Ultimately, high LMX relationships take time to develop, and most people will not enter into a high LMX relationship within their lifetime. These are special relationships but can have a wildly powerful impact on someone’s career and life. The following are some of the known outcomes of high LMX relationships when compared to those in low LMX relationships:

  1. Increased productivity (both quality and quantity).
  2. Increased job satisfaction.
  3. Less likely to quit.
  4. Increased supervisor satisfaction.
  5. Increased organizational commitment.
  6. Increased satisfaction with the communication practices of the team and organization.
  7. Increased clarity about one’s role in the organization.
  8. Increased likelihood to go beyond their job duties to help other employees.
  9. Higher levels of success in their careers.
  10. Increased likelihood of providing honest feedback.
  11. Increased motivation at work.
  12. Higher levels of influence within their organization.
  13. Receive more desirable work assignments.
  14. Higher levels of attention and support from organizational leaders.
  15. Increased organizational participation. 20, 21, 22, 23

Research Spotlight

image

In a 2019 article, Leah Omilion-Hodges, Scott Shank, and Christine Packard wanted to find out what young adults want in a manager. To start, the researchers orally interviewed 22 undergraduate students (mean age was 22). They asked the students about the general desires they have for managers, which included questions about general management style and communication (frequency and quality). Previous research by Omilon-Hodges and Christine Sugg had determined five management archetypes, which was reaffirmed in the current study:24

  1. Mentor: An empathetic advocate, professional, and personal guide.
  2. Manager: A proxy for organizational leadership who takes a transactional approach to leader-follower relationships.
  3. Teacher: Seen as a traditional educator who provides role testing episodes, clear feedback, and opportunities for redemption and growth.
  4. Friend: Although in a managerial position, perceived as an informed and approachable peer.
  5. Gatekeeper: A high-status actor who is positioned to either advocate for or against an employee. 25

In the current set of focus group interviews, the researchers focused more on the communicative and relational behaviors students wanted out of managers:

  1. Mentor: Role model, leads by example, makes and leaves an impact, advocate, and life coach.
  2. Manager: The nuts and bolts of a functional organization, lack of personal relationship, monitor and delegate tasks, maintain the establishment, structured and organized, stick to the plan, follow rules and regulations, strictly business, rules, hierarchy, protocol, and proficient.
  3. Teacher: Dedicated, provide learning opportunities, supportive, dedicated to growth of the organization, information delegation, provides necessary resources, provides explicit directions and feedback, one-on-one instruction.
  4. Friend: Well-developed relationship outside of work, empathetic; support in all areas of your life, similarity, identity development, values employees as whole people, relationally focused.
  5. Gatekeeper: Removed from day-to-day operations, strategic, can help you advance or hold you back, rules and regulation abiding, restricts information at their discretion, communicates only to influence, controls the successes and or failures of followers. 26

With the focus groups completed, the researchers used what they learned to create a 54-item measure of management archetypes, which they then tested with a sample of 153 participants. During the analysis process, the researchers lost the gatekeeper set of questions, but the other four management archetypes held firm. This study was confirmed in a third study using 249 students.

Omilion-Hodges, L. M., Shank, S. E., & Packard, C. M. (2019). What young adults want: A multistudy examination of vocational anticipatory socialization through the lens of students’ desired managerial communication behaviors. Management Communication Quarterly, 33(4), 512–547. https://doi.org/10.1177/0893318919851177

Followership

a 2x2 matrix with challenge running from low to high on the y axis and supervisory support running from low to high on the x axis. from the top left, going clockwise, the blocks read Individualist (high challenge, low supervisory support), Partner (high challenge, high supervisory support), Implementer (low challenge, high supervisory support), and Resource (low challenge, low supervisory support)
Figure 13. 4 Styles of Followership

Although there is a great deal of leadership about the concepts of leadership, there isn’t as much about people who follow those leaders. is “the act or condition under which an individual helps or supports a leader in the accomplishment of organizational goals.”27

Ira Chaleff (http://www.courageousfollower.net/) was one of the first researchers to examine the nature of followership in his book, The Courageous Follower.28 Chaleff believes that followership is not something that happens naturally for a lot of people, so it is something that people must be willing to engage in. From this perspective, followership is not a passive behavior. Ultimately, followership can be broken down into two primary factors: the courage to support the leader and the courage to challenge the leader’s behavior and policies. Figure 13.4 represents the general breakdown of Chaleff’s four types of followers: resource, individualist, implementer, and partner. Before proceeding, you may want to watch the video Chaleff produced that uses tango to illustrate his basic ideas of followership (https://youtu.be/Cswrnc1dggg).

Resource

The first follower style discussed by Chaleff is the resource. Resources will not challenge or support their leader. Chaleff argues that resources generally lack the intellect, imagination, and courage to do more than what is asked of them. When it comes to resources, they usually do what is requested of them, but nothing that goes beyond that.

Individualist

The second followership style is the individualist. Individualists tend to do what they think is best in the organization, not necessarily what they’ve been asked to do. It’s not that individualists are inherently bad followers; they have their perspectives on how things should get accomplished and are more likely to follow their perspectives than those of their leaders. Individualists provide little support for their leaders, and they are the first to speak out with new ideas that contradict their leader’s ideas.

Implementer

The third followership style is the implementer. Implementers are very important for organizations because they tend to do the bulk of the day-to-day work that needs to be accomplished. Implementers busy themselves performing tasks and getting things done, but they do not question or challenge their leaders.

Partner

The final type of followership is the partner. Partners have an inherent need to be seen as equal to their leaders with regard to both intellect and skill levels. Partners take responsibility for their own and their leader’s ideas and behaviors. Partners do support their leaders but have no problem challenging their leaders. When they do disagree with their leaders, partners point out specific concerns with their leader’s ideas and behaviors.

Key Takeaways

  • Hersey and Blanchard’s situational-leadership theory can be seen in Figure 13.2. As part of this theory, Hersey and Blanchard noted four different types of leaders: directing, coaching, supporting, and delegating. Directing leaders set the basic roles an individual has and the tasks an individual needs to accomplish. Coaching leaders still set the basic roles and tasks that need to be accomplished by specific followers, but they allow for input from their followers. Supporting leader allows followers to make the day-to-day decisions related to getting tasks accomplished, but determining what tasks need to be accomplished is a mutually agreed upon decision. And a delegating leader is one where the follower and leader are mutually involved in the basic decision making and problem-solving process, but the ultimate control for accomplishing tasks is left up to the follower.
  • Leader-member exchange theory (LMX) explores how leaders enter into two-way relationships with followers through a series of exchange agreements enabling followers to grow or be held back. There are three stages of LMX relationships: strange, acquaintance, and partner. The stranger stage is one where their self-interests primarily guide the follower and the leader. Next, the acquaintance stage involves exchanges between a leader and follower become more normalized and aren’t necessarily based on a cash and carry system. Finally, the partner stage is when a follower stops being perceived as a follower and starts being perceived as an equal or colleague.
  • Followership is the act or condition under which an individual helps or supports a leader in the accomplishment of organizational goals. In Ira Chaleff’s concept of followership, he describes for different followership styles: resource, individualist, implementer, and partner. First, a resource is someone who will not support nor challenge their leader. Second, an individualist is someone who engages in low levels of supervisory support but high levels of challenge for a leader. Third, implementers support their leaders but don’t challenge them, but they are known for doing the bulk of the day-to-day work. Lastly, partners are people who show both high levels of support and challenge for their leaders. Partners have an inherent need to be seen as equal to their leaders with regard to both intellect and skill levels.

Exercises

  • Think back to one of your most recent leaders. If you were to compare their leadership style to Hersey and Blanchard’s situational-leadership theory, which of the four leadership styles did this leader use with you? Why do you think this leader used this specific style with you? Did this leader use different leadership styles with different followers?
  • Why do you think high LMX relationships are so valuable to one’s career trajectory? Why do you think more followers or leaders go out of their ways to develop high LMX relationships?
  • When thinking about your relationship with a recent leader, what type of follower were you according to Ira Chaleff’s concept of followership? Why?

13.3 Coworker (Peer Relationships)

Learning Objectives

  1. List and explain Patricia Sias’ characteristics of coworker relationships and Jessica Methot’s three additional characteristics.
  2. Differentiate among Kathy Kram and Lynn Isabella’s three types of coworker relationships.
  3. Explain Patricia Sias and Daniel Cahill’s list of influencing factors on coworker relationships.
  4. Describe the three ways coworkers go about disengaging from workplace relationships articulated by Patricia Sias and Tarra Perry.

Characteristics of Coworker Relationships

According to organizational workplace relationship expert Patricia Sias, peer coworker relationships exist between individuals who exist at the same level within an organizational hierarchy and have no formal authority over each other.29 According to Sias, we engage in these coworker relationships because they provide us with mentoring, information, power, and support. Let’s look at all four of these.

Sias’ Reasons for Workplace Relationships

Mentoring

First, our coworker relationships are a great source for mentoring within any organizational environment. It’s always good to have that person who is a peer that you can run to when you have a question or need advice. Because this person has no direct authority over you, you can informally interact with this person without fear of reproach if these relationships are healthy. We’ll discuss what happens when you have nonhealthy relationships in the next section.

Sources of Information

Second, we use our peer coworker relationships as sources for information. One of our coauthors worked in a medical school for a while. Our coauthor quickly realized that there were some people he could talk to around the hospital who would gladly let our coauthor know everything that was going on around the place. One important caveat to all of this involves the quality of the information we are receiving. By information quality, Sias refers to the degree to which an individual perceives the information they are receiving as accurate, timely, and useful. Ever had that one friend who always has great news, that everyone else heard the previous week? Yeah, not all information sources provide you with quality information. As such, we need to establish a network of high-quality information sources if we are going to be successful within an organizational environment.

Issues of Power

Third, we engage in coworker relationships as an issue of power. Although two coworkers may exist in the same run within an organizational hierarchy, it’s important also to realize that there are informal sources of power as well. In the next chapter, we are going to explore the importance of power within interpersonal relationships in general. For now, we’ll say that power can be useful and helps us influence what goes on within our immediate environments. However, power can also be used to control and intimidate people, which is a huge problem in many organizations.

Social Support

The fourth reason we engage in peer coworker relationships is social support. For our purposes, let’s define as the perception and actuality that an individual receives assistance, care, and help from those people within their life. Let’s face it; there’s a reason corporate America has been referred to as the concrete jungle, circuses, or theatres of the absurd. Even the best organization in the world can be trying at times. The best boss in the world will eventually get under your skin about something. We’re humans; we’re flawed. As such, no organization is perfect, so it’s always important to have those peer coworkers we can go to who are there for us. One of our coauthors has a coworker our coauthor calls whenever our coauthor needs to be “talked off the ledge.” Our coauthor likes higher education and loves being a professor, but occasionally something happens, and our coauthor needs the coworker to vent to about something that has occurred. For the most part, our coauthor doesn’t want the coworker to solve a problem; our coauthor just wants someone to listen as our coauthor vents. We all need to de-stress in the workplace, and having peer coworker relationships is one way we do this.

Other Characteristics

In addition to the four characteristics discussed by Sias, Jessica Methot30 argued that three other features are also important: trust, relational maintenance, and ability to focus.

Trust

Methot defines trust as “the willingness to be vulnerable to another party with the expectation that the other party will behave with the best interest of the focal individual.”31 In essence, in the workplace, we eventually learn how to make ourselves vulnerable to our coworkers believing that our coworkers will do what’s in our best interests. Now, trust is an interesting and problematic concept because it’s both a function of workplace relationships but also an outcome. For coworker relationships to work or operate as they should, we need to be able to trust our coworkers. However, the more we get to know our coworkers and know they have our best interests at heart, then the more we will ultimately trust our coworkers. Trust develops over time and is not something that is not just a bipolar concept of trust or doesn’t trust. Instead, there are various degrees of trust in the workplace. At first, you may trust your coworkers just enough to tell them surface level things about yourself (e.g., where you went to college, major, hometown, etc.), but over time, as we’ve discussed before in this book, we start to self-disclose as deeper levels as our trust increases. Now, most coworker relationships will never be intimate relationships or even actual friendships, but we can learn to trust our coworkers within the confines of our jobs.

Relational Maintenance

Kathryn Dindia and Daniel J. Canary wrote that definitions of the term “relational maintenance” could be broken down into four basic types:

  1. To keep a relationship in existence;
  2. To keep a relationship in a specified state or condition;
  3. To keep a relationship in a satisfactory condition; and
  4. To keep a relationship in repair.32

Mithas argues that is a difficult task in any context. Still, coworker relationships can have a range of negative outcomes if organizational members have difficulty maintaining their relationships with each other. For this reason, Mithas defines maintenance difficulty as “the degree of difficulty individuals experience in interpersonal relationships due to misunderstandings, incompatibility of goals, and the time and effort necessary to cope with disagreements.”33 Imagine you have two coworkers who tend to behave in an inappropriate fashion nonverbally. Maybe he sits there and rolls his eyes at everything his coworker says, or perhaps she uses exaggerated facial expressions to mock her coworker when he’s talking. Having these types of coworkers will cause us (as a third party witnessing these problems) to spend more time trying to maintain relationships with both of them. On the flip side, the relationship between our two coworkers will take even more maintenance to get them to a point where they can just be collegial in the same room with each other. The more time we have to spend trying to decrease tension or resolve interpersonal conflicts in the workplace, the less time we will ultimately have on our actual jobs. Eventually, this can leave you feeling exhausted feeling and emotionally drained as though you just don’t have anything else to give. When this happens, we call this having inadequate resources to meet work demands. All of us will eventually hit a wall when it comes to our psychological and emotional resources. When we do hit that wall, our ability to perform job tasks will decrease. As such, it’s essential that we strive to maintain healthy relationships with our coworkers ourselves, but foster an environment that encourages our coworkers to maintain healthy relationships with each other. However, it’s important to note that some people will simply never play well in the sandbox others. Some coworker relationships can become so toxic that minimizing contact and interaction can be the best solution to avoid draining your psychological and emotional resources.

Ability to Focus

Have you ever found your mind wandering while you are trying to work? One of the most important things when it comes to getting our work done is having the ability to focus. Within an organizational context, Methot defines “ability to focus” as “the ability to pay attention to value-producing activities without being concerned with extraneous issues such as off-task thoughts or distractions.”34 When individuals have healthy relationships with their coworkers, they are more easily able to focus their attention on the work at hand. On the other hand, if your coworkers always play politics, stabbing each other in the back, gossiping, and engaging in numerous other counterproductive workplace (or deviant workplace) behaviors, then it’s going to be a lot harder for you to focus on your job.

Types of Coworker Relationships

Now that we’ve looked at some of the characteristics of coworker relationships, let’s talk about the three different types of coworkers research has categorized. Kathy Kram and Lynn Isabella35 found that there are essentially three different types of coworker relationships in the workplace: information peer, collegial peer, and special peer. Figure 13.5 illustrates the basic things we get from each of these different types of peer relationships.

Information peer: Information sharing, workplace socialization/onboarding, networking, knowledge management/maintenance. Collegial Peer: Career strategizing, job-related feedback, recognizing competence/performace, friendship. Special Peer: Confirmation, emotional support, personal feedback, friendship.
Figure 13.5 Types of Coworker Relationships

Information Peers

are so-called because we rely on these individuals for information about job tasks and the organization itself. As you can see from Figure 13.5, there are four basic types of activities we engage information peers for information sharing, workplace socialization/onboarding, networking, and knowledge management/maintenance.

Information Sharing

First, we share information with our information peers. Of course, this information is task-focused, so the information is designed to help us complete our job better.

Workplace Socialization and Onboarding

Second, information peers are vital during workplace socialization or onboarding. Workplace socialization can be defined as the process by which new organizational members learn the rules (e.g., explicit policies, explicit procedures, etc.), norms (e.g., when you go on break, how to act at work, who to eat with, who not to eat with, etc.), and culture (e.g., innovation, risk-taking, team orientation, competitiveness, etc.) of an organization. Organizations often have a very formal process for workplace socialization that is called onboarding. Onboarding is when an organization helps new members get acquainted with the organization, its members, its customers, and its products/services.

Networking

Third, information peers help us network within our organization or a larger field. Half of being successful in any organization involves getting to know the key players within the organization. Our information peers will already have existing relationships with these key players, so they can help make introductions. Furthermore, some of our peers may connect with others in the field (outside the organization), so they could help you meet other professionals as well.

Knowledge Management/Maintenance

Lastly, information peers help us manage and maintain knowledge. During the early parts of workplace socialization, our information peers will help us weed through all of the noise and focus on the knowledge that is important for us to do our jobs. As we become more involved in an organization, we can still use these information peers to help us acquire new knowledge or update existing knowledge. When we talk about knowledge, we generally talk about two different types: explicit and tacit. Explicit knowledge is information that is kept in some retrievable format. For example, you’ll need to find previously written reports or a list of customers’ names and addresses. These are examples of the types of information that physically (or electronically) may exist within the organization. Tacit knowledge, on the other hand, is the knowledge that’s difficult to capture permanently (e.g., write down, visualize, or permanently transfer from one person to another) because it’s garnered from personal experience and contexts. Informational peers who have been in an organization for a long time will have a lot of tacit knowledge. They may have an unwritten history of why policies and procedures are the way they are now, or they may know how to “read” certain clients because they’ve spent decades building relationships. For obvious reasons, it’s much easier to pass on explicit knowledge than implicit knowledge.

Collegial Peers

The second class of relationships we’ll have in the workplace are or relationships that have moderate levels of trust and self-disclosure and is different from information peers because of the more openness that is shared between two individuals. Collegial peers may not be your best friends, but they are people that you enjoy working with. Some of the hallmarks of collegial peers include career strategizing, job-related feedback, recognizing competence/performance, friendship.

Career Strategizing

First, collegial peers help us with career strategizing. is the process of creating a plan of action for one’s career path and trajectory. First, notice that career strategizing is a process, so it’s marked by gradual changes that help you lead to your ultimate result. Career strategizing isn’t something that happens once, and we stay on that path for the rest of our lives. Often or intended career paths take twists and turns we never expected nor predicted. However, our collegial peers are often great resources for helping us think through this process either within a specific organization or a larger field.

Job-Related Feedback

Second, collegial peers also provide us with job-related feedback. We often turn to those who are around us the most often to see how we are doing within an organization. Our collegial peers can provide us this necessary feedback to ensure we are doing our jobs to the utmost of our abilities and the expectations of the organization. Under this category, the focus is purely on how we are doing our jobs and how we can do our jobs better.

Recognizing Competence/Performance

Third, collegial peers are usually the first to recognize our competence in the workplace and recognize us for excellent performance. Generally speaking, our peers have more interactions with us on the day-to-day job than does middle or upper management, so they are often in the best position to recognize our competence in the workplace. Our competence in the workplace can involve having valued attitudes (e.g., liking hard work, having a positive attitude, working in a team, etc.), cognitive abilities (e.g., information about a field, technical knowledge, industry-specific knowledge, etc.), and skills (e.g., writing, speaking, computer, etc.) necessary to complete critical work-related tasks. Not only do our peers recognize our attitudes, cognitive abilities, and skills, they are also there to pat us on the backs and tell us we’ve done a great job when a task is complete.

Friendship

Lastly, collegial peers provide us a type of friendship in the workplace. They offer us a sense of camaraderie in the workplace. They also offer us someone we can both like and trust in the workplace. Now, it’s important to distinguish this level of friendships from other types of friendships we have in our lives. Collegial peers are not going to be your “best friends,” but they will offer you friendships within the workplace that make work more bearable and enjoyable. At the collegial level, you may not associate with these friends outside of work beyond workplace functions (e.g., sitting next to each other at meetings, having lunch together, finding projects to work on together, etc.). It’s also possible that a group of collegial peers will go to events outside the workplace as a group (e.g., going to happy hour, throwing a holiday party, attending a baseball game, etc.).

Special Peers

The final group of peers we work with are called special peers. Kram and Isabella note that special peer relationships “involves revealing central ambivalences and personal dilemmas in work and family realms. Pretense and formal roles are replaced by greater self-disclosure and self-expression.”36 relationships are marked by confirmation, emotional support, personal feedback, and friendship.

Confirmation

First, special peers provide us with confirmation. When we are having one of our darkest days at work and are not sure we’re doing our jobs well, our special peers are there to let us know that we’re doing a good job. They approve of who we are and what we do. These are also the first people we go to when we do something well at work.

Emotional Support

Second, special peers provide us with emotional support in the workplace. Emotional support from special peers comes from their willingness to listen and offer helpful advice and encouragement. Kelly Zellars and Pamela Perrewé have noted there are four types of emotional social support we get from peers: positive, negative, non-job-related, and empathic communication.37 Positive emotional support is when you and a special peer talk about the positive sides to work. For example, you and a special peer could talk about the joys of working on a specific project. Negative emotional support, on the other hand, is when you and a special peer talk about the downsides to work. For example, maybe both of you talk about the problems working with a specific manager or coworker. The third form of emotional social support is non-job-related or talking about things that are happening in your personal lives outside of the workplace itself. These could be conversations about friends, family members, hobbies, etc. A good deal of the emotional social support we get from special peers has nothing to do with the workplace at all. The final type of emotional social support is empathic communication or conversations about one’s emotions or emotional state in the workplace. If you’re having a bad day, you can go to your special peer, and they will reassure you about the feelings you are experiencing. Another example is talking to your special peer after having a bad interaction with a customer that ended with the customer yelling at you for no reason. After the interaction, you seek out your special peer, and they will confirm your feelings and thoughts about the interaction.

Personal Feedback

Third, special peers will provide both reliable and candid feedback about you and your work performance. One of the nice things about building an intimate special peer relationship is that both of you will be honest with one another. There are times we need confirmation, but then there are times we need someone to be bluntly honest with us. We are more likely to feel criticized and hurt when blunt honesty comes from someone when we do not have a special peer relationship. Special peer relationships provide a safe space where we can openly listen to feedback even if we’re not thrilled to receive that feedback.

Friendship

Lastly, special peers also offer us a sense of deeper friendship in the workplace. You can almost think of special peers as your best friend(s) within the workplace. Most people will only have one or maybe two people they consider a special peer in the workplace. You may be friendly with a lot of your peers (i.g., collegial peers), but having that special peer relationship is deeper and more meaningful.

A Further Look at Workplace Friendships

At some point, a peer coworker relationship may, or may not, evolve into a workplace friendship. According to Patricia Sias, there are two key hallmarks of a workplace friendship: voluntariness and personalistic focus. First, workplace friendships are voluntary. Someone can assign you a mentor or a mentee, but that person cannot make you form a friendship with that person. Most of the people you work with will not be your friends. You can have amazing working relationships with your coworkers, but you may only develop a small handful of workplace friendships. Second, workplace friendships have a personalistic focus. Instead of just viewing this individual as a coworker, we see this person as someone who is a whole individual who is a friend. According to research, workplace friendships are marked by higher levels of intimacy, frankness, and depth than those who are peer coworkers.38

Friendship Development in the Workplace

According to Patricia Sias and Daniel Cahill, workplace friendships are developed by a series of influencing factors: individual/personal factors, contextual factors, and communication changes. 39 First, some friendships develop because we are drawn to the other person. Maybe you’re drawn to a person in a meeting because she has a sense of humor that is similar to yours, or maybe you find that another coworker’s attitude towards the organization is exactly like yours. Whatever the reason we have, we are often drawn to people that are like us. For this reason, we are often drawn to people who resemble ourselves demographically (e.g., age, sex, race, religion, etc.).

A second reason we develop relationships in the workplace is because of a variety of different contextual factors. Maybe your office is right next to someone else’s office, so you develop a friendship because you’re next to each other all the time. Perhaps you develop friendships because you’re on the same committee or put on the same work project with another person. In large organizations, we often end up making friends with people simply because we get to meet them. Depending on the size of your organization, you may end up meeting and interact with a tiny percentage of people, so you’re not likely to become friends with everyone in the organization equally. Other organizations provide a culture where friendships are approved of and valued. In the realm of workplace friendship research, two important factors have been noticed concerning contextual factors controlled by the organization: opportunity and prevalence.40 Friendship opportunity refers to the degree to which an organization promotes and enables workers to develop friendships within the organization. Does your organization have regular social gatherings for employees? Does your organization promote informal interaction among employees, or does it clamp down on coworker communication? Not surprisingly, individuals who work in organizations that allow for and help friendships tend to be satisfied, more motivated, and generally more committed to the organization itself.

Friendship prevalence, on the other hand, is less of an organizational culture and more the degree to which an individual feels that they have developed or can develop workplace friendships. You may have an organization that attempts to create an environment where people can make friends, but if you don’t think you can trust your coworkers, you’re not very likely to make workplace friends. Although the opportunity is important when seeing how an individual responds to the organization, friendship prevalence is probably the more important factor of the two. If I’m a highly communicative apprehensive employee, I may not end up making any friends at work, so I may see my workplace place as just a job without any commitment at all. When an individual isn’t committed to the workplace, they will probably start looking for another job.41

Lastly, as friendships develop, our communication patterns within those relationships change. For example, when we move from being just an acquaintance to being a friend with a coworker, we are more likely to increase the amount of communication about non-work and personal topics. When we transition from friend to close friend, Sias and Cahill note that this change is marked by decreased caution and increased intimacy. Furthermore, this transition in friendship is characterized by an increase in discussing work-related problems. The final transition from a close friend to “almost best” friend. According to Sias and Cahill, “Because of the increasing amount of trust developed between the coworkers, they felt freer to share opinions and feelings, particularly their feelings about work frustrations. Their discussion about both work and personal issues became increasingly more detailed and intimate.”42

Relationship Disengagement

Thus far, we’ve talked about workplace friendships as positive factors in the workplace, but any friendship can sour. Some friendships sour because one person moves into a position of authority of the other, so there is no longer perceived equality within the relationship. Other friendships occur when there is a relationship violation of some kind (see Chapter 8). Some friendships devolve because of conflicting expectations of the relationship. Maybe one friend believes that giving him a heads up about insider information in the workplace is part of being a friend, and the other person sees it as a violation of trust given to her by her supervisors. When we have these conflicting ideas about what it means to “be a friend,” we can often see a schism that gets created. So, how does an individual get out of workplace friendships? Patricia Sias and Tarra Perry were the first researchers to discuss how colleagues disengage from relationships with their coworkers.43 Sias and Perry found three distinct tools that coworkers use: state-of-the-relationship talk, cost escalation, and depersonalization. Before explaining them, we should mention that people use all three and do not necessarily progress through the three in any order.

State-of-the-Relationship Talk

The first strategy people use when disengaging from workplace friendships involves state-of-the-relationship talk. is exactly what it sounds like; you officially have a discussion that the friendship is ending. The goal of state-of-the-relationship talk is to engage the other person and inform them that ending the friendship is the best way to ensure that the two can continue a professional, functional relationship. Ideally, all workplace friendships could end in a situation where both parties agree that it’s in everyone’s best interest for the friendship to stop. Still, we all know this isn’t always the case, which is why the other two are often necessary.

Cost Escalation

The second strategy people use when ending a workplace friendship involves cost escalation. involves tactics that are designed to make the cost of maintaining the relationship higher than getting out of the relationship. For example, a coworker could start belittling a friend in public, making the friend the center of all jokes, or talking about the friend behind the friend’s back. All of these behaviors are designed to make the cost of the relationship too high for the other person.

Depersonalization

The final strategy involves depersonalization. can come in one of two basic forms. First, an individual can depersonalization a relationship by stopping all the interaction that is not task-focused. When you have to interact with the workplace friend, you keep the conversation purely business and do not allow for talk related to personal lives. The goal of this type of behavior is to alter the relationship from one of closeness to one of professional distance. The second way people can depersonalize a relationship is simply to avoid that person. If you know a workplace friend is going to be at a staff party, you purposefully don’t go. If you see the workplace friend coming down the hallway, you go in the opposite direction or duck inside a room before they can see you. Again, the purpose of this type of depersonalization is to put actual distance between you and the other person. According to Sias and Perry’s research, depersonalization tends to be the most commonly used tactic.44

Key Takeaways

  • According to Patricia Sias, people engage in workplace relationships for several reasons: mentoring, information, power, and support. Jessica Methot’s further suggested that we engage in coworker relationships for trust, relational maintenance, and the ability to focus.
  • Kathy Kram and Lynn Isabella explained that there are three different types of workplace relationships: information peer, collegial peer, and special peer. Information peers are coworkers we rely on for information about job tasks and the organization itself. Collegial peers are coworkers with whom we have moderate levels of trust and self-disclosure and more openness that is shared between two individuals. Special peers, on the other hand, are coworkers marked by high levels of trust and self-disclosure, like a “best friend” in the workplace.
  • Patricia Sias and Daniel Cahill’s created a list of influencing factors on coworker relationships. First, some coworkers we are simply more drawn to than others. As such, traditional notions of interpersonal attraction and homophily are at play. A second influencing factor involves contextual changes. Often there are specific contextual changes (e.g., moving offices, friendship opportunity, and friendship prevalence) impact the degree to which people develop coworker friendships. Finally, communication changes as we progress through the four types of coworker friendships: acquaintance, friend, close friend, and almost best friend.
  • Patricia Sias and Tarra Perry describe three different ways that coworkers can disengage from coworker relationships in the workplace. First, individuals can engage in state-of-the-relationship talk with a coworker, or explain to a coworker that a workplace friendship is ending. Second, individuals can make the cost of maintaining the relationship higher than getting out of the relationship, which is called cost escalation. The final disengagement strategy coworkers can utilize, depersonalization occurs when an individual stops all the interaction with a coworker that is not task-focused or simply to avoids the coworker.

Exercises

  • Think about your workplace relationships with coworkers. Which of Patricia Sias’ four reasons and Jessica Methot’s three additional characteristics were at play in these coworker relationships?
  • Kathy Kram and Lynn Isabella described three different types of peers we have in the workplace: information peer, collegial peer, and special peer. Think about your workplace. Can you identify people who fall into all three categories? If not, why do you think you don’t have all three types of peers? If you do, how are these relationships distinctly different from one another?
  • Think about an experience where you needed to end a workplace relationship with a coworker. Which of Patricia Sias and Tarra Perry’s disengagement strategies did you use? Do you think there are other disengagement strategies available beyond the ones described by Sias and Perry?

13.4 Romantic Relationships at Work

Learning Objectives

  1. Define the term “romantic workplace relationship.”
  2. Reconstruct Charles Pierce, Donn Byrne, and Herman Aguinis’ model of romantic workplace relationships.
  3. Describe the four reasons why romantic workplace relationships develop discovered by Renee Cowan and Sean Horan.
  4. Summarize the findings related to how coworkers view romantic workplace relationships.

In 2014 poll conducted by CareerBuilder.com and Harris Interactive Polling, they found that 38% of U.S. workers had dated a coworker at least once, and 20% of office romances involve someone who is already married.45 According to the press release issued by the researchers, “Office romances most often start with coworkers running into each other outside of work (12 percent) or at a happy hour (11 percent). Some other situations that led to romance include late nights at work (10 percent), having lunch together (10 percent), and love at first sight (9 percent).” Furthermore, according to data collected by Stanford University’s “How Couples Meet and Stay Together” research project, around 12% of married couples meet at work.46 Meeting through friends is the number one way that people meet their marriage partners, but those who met at work were more likely to get married than those who met through friends.

In essence, workplaces are still a place for romance, but this romance can often be a double-edged sword for organizations. In the modern organization, today’s office fling can easily turn into tomorrow’s sexual harassment lawsuit.

Understanding Romantic Workplace Relationships

According to Charles Pierce, Donn Byrne, and Herman Aguinis, a occurs when “two employees have acknowledged their mutual attraction to one another and have physically acted upon their romantic feelings in the form of a dating or otherwise intimate association.”47 From this perspective, the authors noted five distinct characteristics commonly associated with workplace romantic relationships:

  1. Passionate desire to be with one’s romantic partner;
  2. Shared, intimate self-disclosures;
  3. Affection and mutual respect;
  4. Emotional fulfillment; and
  5. Sexual fulfillment/gratification.

A Model of Romantic Workplace Relationships

1) Propinquity. 2) interpersonal attraction. 3) Romantic attraction. 4) desire for workplace relationship. 5) Engagement in workplace relationship. 6)outcomes of workplace romance: a) organizational b) professional c) Personal.
Figure 13.6 Romantic Workplace Relationship Model

In their article examining romantic workplace relationships, Pierce, Byrne, and Aguinis proposed a model for understanding workplace relationships. Figure 13.6 is a simplified version of that basic model. The basic model is pretty easy to follow. First, it starts with the issue of propinquity, or the physical closeness of two people in a given space. One of the main reasons romantic relationships develop in the workplace is because we are around people in our offices every day. It’s this physical proximity that ultimately leads people to develop interpersonal attractions for some people. However, just because we find someone interpersonally attractive doesn’t mean we’re going to jump in a romantic relationship with them. Most people (if not all people) that we find interpersonally attractive at work will never develop romantic attractions towards. However, romantic attraction does happen. At the same time, if you don’t desire a workplace relationship, then even a romantic attraction won’t lead you to start engaging in a workplace relationship. If, however, you decide or desire to workplace relationship, then you are likely to start participating in that romantic workplace relationship.

Once you start engaging in a romantic workplace relationship, there will be consequences of that relationship. Now, some of these consequences are positive, and others could be negative. For our purposes, we broadly put these consequences into three different categories: personal, professional, and organizational.

Personal Outcomes

The first type of outcomes someone may face are personal outcomes or outcomes that affect an individual and not their romantic partner. Ultimately, romantic relationships can have a combination of both positive and negative outcomes for the individuals involved in them. For our purposes here, we will assume that both romantic partners are single and not in any other kind of romantic relationship. As long as that romantic relationship is functioning positively, individuals will be happy, which can positively impact someone’s job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and employee motivation. Employees engaged in romantic workplace relationships will even work longer hours so they can be with their romantic partners.

On the flip side, romantic relationships always have their ups and downs. If a relationship is not going well, then the individuals in those romantic workplace relationships can lead to adverse outcomes. In this case, we could see a decrease in job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and employee motivation. You could also see romantic partners trying to put more distance between themselves and their romantic partner at work. In these cases, you could see people avoid being placed on the same project or working longer hours to avoid extra time with their romantic partner.

Overall, it’s important to remember that romantic workplace relationships can lead to personal outcomes in the workplace environment. People often think they can keep their romantic and professional selves apart, but these distinctions can often become blurry and harder to separate.

Professional Outcomes

The second type of outcomes someone in a romantic workplace relationship may face are professional. According to Robert Quinn, there is a range of professional outcomes that can occur when someone is involved in a romantic relationship.48 Quinn listed six basic outcomes someone people achieve professionally as a result of engaging in a romantic workplace relationship: advancement, job security, increased power, financial rewards, easier work, job efficiency. Each of these professional outcomes are not guaranteed, and depend on the nature of the romantic relationship and who the partner is. If someone’s partner has more power within the organization, then they can show more favoritism towards their romantic power. Whereas, individuals on the same rung of the hierarchy, may not have the ability to create professional advancement.

There is also the flipside to professional outcomes. If a relationship starts to sour, someone could see their career advancement slowed, less job security, less power in the workplace, etc.… It’s in cases where romantic relationships sour (especially between individuals at different rungs of an organization’s hierarchy) when we start to see the real problems associated with romantic workplace relationships.

Organizational Outcomes

The final type of outcomes happens not directly to the individuals within a romantic workplace relationship, but rather to the organization itself. Organizations face a wide range of possible outcomes that stem from romantic workplace relationships. When romantic workplace relationships are going well, organizations have members who are more satisfied, motivated, and committed. Of course, this all trickles over into higher levels of productivity.

On the other hand, there are also negative outcomes that stem from romantic workplace relationships. First, people who are in an intimate relationship with each other in the workplace are often the subjects of extensive office gossip.49 And this gossiping is time-consuming and can become a problem from a wide range of organizational members. Second, individuals who are “dating their boss” can lead to resentment by their peers if their peers perceive the boss as providing any kind of preferential treatment for their significant other in the workplace. Furthermore, not all romantic workplace relationships are going to turn out well. Many romantic workplace relationships simply will dissolve. Sometimes this dissolution of the relationship is amicable, or both parties are OK with the breakup and can maintain professionalism after the fact. Unfortunately, there are times when romantic workplace relationships dissolve, and things can get a bit messy and unprofessional in the workplace. Although happy romantic workplace relationships have many positive side-effects, negative romantic workplace relationships can have the opposite outcomes for an organization leading to a decrease in job satisfaction, employee motivation, and organizational commitment, which leads to decreased productivity.

Many dissolutions of romantic workplace relationships could lead to formerly happy and productive organizational members looking for new jobs away from the person they were dating. In other cases (especially those involving people on different rungs of the organizational hierarchy), the organization could face legal claims of sexual harassment. Many organizations know that this last outcome is a real possibility, so they require any couple engaged in a romantic workplace relationship to enter into a consensual relationship agreement or “love contract” (see Side Bar for an example love contract). Other organizations ban romantic workplace relationships completely, and people found violating the policy can be terminated.

Consensual Romance in the Workplace Agreement (Love Contract)50

A consensual romance agreement to be signed by two romantically–involved employees representing that their relationship is entirely consensual and acknowledging the employer’s anti-harassment policies and rules. This Standard Document is drafted in favor of the employer. It is based on federal law. This Standard Document has integrated notes with important explanations and drafting tips. For information on state law requirements for discrimination and harassment, see Anti-Discrimination Laws: State Q&A Tool.

Consensual Romance in the Workplace Agreement (Love Contract)

DRAFTING NOTE: READ THIS BEFORE USING DOCUMENT

Employers allowing employees to engage in romantic relationships with one another can ask romantically involved employees to sign an agreement stating that their romantic relationship is entirely consensual and free from coercion, intimidation, and harassment. These agreements are often referred to as love contracts.

Employers should consider using this love contract to minimize legal risk associated with employee romantic relationships, particularly potential sexual harassment claims. For more information about the risks associated with employee romantic relationships, see Practice Notes, Romance in the Workplace (0-502-6127)1 and Harassment (9-502-7844).

USE OF A LOVE CONTRACT

Before employers request romantically involved employees to sign this agreement, they should interview each employee separately. They should record the conversation in written notes and ask questions designed to confirm that the relationship is entirely consensual. The employer should then explain each portion of the agreement to each employee separately and review the policies it references with them. Finally, the employer should ask each employee to review the agreement and to sign it if they agree with its terms.

MINIMIZING RISK

To further minimize risk, all employers should consider:

  • Implementing and uniformly enforcing an anti-harassment policy (for a sample policy, see Standard Document, Anti- Harassment Policy (7-501-6926)).
  • Implementing and uniformly enforcing a romance in the workplace policy (for a sample policy, see Standard Document, Romance in the Workplace Policy (8-502-7646)).
  • Conducting training on sexual harassment prevention (for more information, see Sexual Harassment Prevention Training Checklist (9-502-7349)).

BRACKETED TEXT

Counsel should replace bracketed text in ALL CAPS with information specific to the particular circumstances. Bracketed text in sentence case is optional or alternative language that counsel should include, modify, or delete, as appropriate. A forward slash in bracketed text indicates that counsel should choose from among two or more alternative words or phrases.

1. This number refers to other legal templates available from legalsolutions.com/practical-law.

1. Equal Employment Opportunity Workplace. The undersigned recognize and agree that it is [EMPLOYER NAME]’s policy to provide an equal opportunity in hiring, employment, promotion, compensation, and all other employment-related decisions without regard to race, color, religion, creed, national origin or ancestry, sex, age (40 or older), being a qualified person with a physical or mental disability, veteran status, genetic information, or any other basis set forth in the applicable federal, state, and local laws or regulations relating to discrimination in employment. The undersigned understand that [EMPLOYER NAME] does not tolerate unwelcome or offensive conduct or conduct that creates a hostile work environment that is in any way based on or related to a person having any of the characteristics described above.

The undersigned agree that they have received, read, and understand [EMPLOYER NAME]’s [NAME OF EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY POLICY] and agree to adhere to all of its terms.

DRAFTING NOTE: EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY WORKPLACE

Employers should consistently take advantage of opportunities to remind employees that they are an equal employment opportunity employer and that they do not discriminate based on any protected characteristic, whether under federal, state, or local law.

Employers should ensure employees acknowledge this fact in this type of agreement in case one or both later brings a claim for harassment or discrimination related to a failed relationship. For more information about the legal risks of a failed employee romantic relationship, see Practice Note, Romance in the Workplace (0-502-6127). For a sample equal employment opportunity policy, see Standard Document, Equal Employment Opportunity Policy (6-500-4349).

2. All Forms of Sexual Harassment Prohibited. The undersigned also recognize and agree that [EMPLOYER NAME] does not tolerate sexual harassment, a form of unlawful discrimination. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when:

  • submission to such conduct is made, explicitly or implicitly, a condition of an individual’s employment or advancement;
  • submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting the individual; or
  • such unreasonable conduct interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.

The undersigned agree that they have received, read, and understand [EMPLOYER NAME]’s [NAME OF ANTI-HARASSMENT POLICY] and agree to adhere to all of its terms.

DRAFTING NOTE: ALL FORMS OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT PROHIBITED

Sexual harassment is the most likely discriminatory practice an employee may claim if an employee romance goes awry. Accordingly, it is especially important to remind and request employees to acknowledge in writing that sexual harassment of any kind is absolutely prohibited and not tolerated (for more information on the different types of sexual harassment, quid pro quo and hostile work environment harassment, see Practice Note, Harassment (9-502-7844)).

It is also helpful to remind employees about the employer’s anti-harassment policy, which should contain mandatory procedures for reporting harassment if it occurs, and request that they acknowledge the policy in writing. Having this policy and applying it uniformly assists employers in making a defense in certain sexual harassment cases called the Faragher-Ellerth defense. For more information about the importance of anti-harassment policies and the Faragher-Ellerth defense, see Practice Note, Harassment: Liability for HWE Harassment Subject to Faragher-Ellerth Defense (9-502-7844). For a sample anti-harassment policy, see Standard Document, Anti- Harassment Policy (7-501-6926).

3. Consensual Relationship. We, the undersigned employees, have entered into a personal relationship with each other. We agree as follows:

  • Our relationship is entirely voluntary and consensual.
  • Our relationship will not have a negative impact on our work.
  • We will not engage in any public displays of affection or other behavior that might create a hostile work environment for others or that might make others uncomfortable.
  • [We understand that one or both of us may need to transfer to another [department/group/ location] to remove any conflicts of interest in our working environment. If a transfer will not remove the conflict of interest, we understand that one of us may have to resign or be demoted to remove the conflict of interest. We further understand that [EMPLOYER NAME] will first ask us to choose which of us will be subject to a transfer, demotion, or resignation. If we fail to choose, [EMPLOYER NAME] will be forced to choose for us. We understand that [EMPLOYER NAME] will make such a decision without regard to any protected class characteristic and in compliance with [EMPLOYER NAME]’s [NAME OF EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY POLICY] and [NAME OF ROMANCE IN THE WORKPLACE POLICY].]
  • We will act professionally toward each other at all times, even after the relationship has ended.
  • We will not participate in any company decision making processes that could affect each other’s pay, promotional opportunities, performance reviews, hours, shifts, or career, while in this relationship [and after the relationship ends].
  • We agree that, if the relationship ends, we will inform [EMPLOYER NAME] if we believe it is necessary to protect our rights or if the [NAME OF ANTI-HARASSMENT POLICY] is violated.
  • We each agree that, if the relationship ends, we will respect the other person’s decision to end the relationship and will not retaliate against the other person, engage in any unprofessional or inappropriate efforts to resume the relationship, or engage in any other conduct toward the other person that could violate the [NAME OF ANTI-HARASSMENT POLICY].

DRAFTING NOTE: CONSENSUAL RELATIONSHIP

This section, the most important of the agreement, allows employees to show that the parties represented to the employer that their relationship was free from harassment, coercion, or intimidation. This representation minimizes risk to the employer that one of the employees will later claim they were sexually harassed or pressured into the relationship. It also demonstrates to courts that the employees were on notice about their expected conduct should problems later arise.

ACKNOWLEDGING POTENTIAL CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

The employees also acknowledge in this section that their relationship could create a conflict of interest and agree to cooperate with certain procedures necessary to remove the conflict of interest, including an optional clause subjecting one or both of them to transfer, or in a worst-case scenario, demotion or termination.

Possible Conflicts in Reporting Structure

It is strongly recommended that employers do not permit romantically involved employees to remain in the same reporting structure. This may include circumstances where one employee supervises the other or any other structure where one of the employees is able to affect the terms and conditions of the other’s employment. A lateral transfer of one of the employees to another department, group, or location is the easiest way to remove the conflict, but where a transfer is not possible or feasible, it may be necessary to consider a demotion or termination of one of the romantic partners. In all cases, the employer should ask the romantically involved employees to determine which employee will be affected to minimize risk of discrimination claims.

Decision Making Authority Over Terms and Conditions of Employment

In this section, the romantically involved employees also agree that they will not participate in any decision making processes that could affect each other’s terms and conditions of employment. This clause contains an optional phrase allowing the employer to choose whether it should apply only for the duration of the relationship or afterwards as well. Although it may be logistically easier for the employer to limit it to the duration of the relationship, employers should strongly consider leaving the prohibition in place after the relationship ends to minimize risk of discrimination and retaliation claims (for more information about retaliation, see Practice Note, Retaliation (5-501-1430) and Standard Document, Anti-Retaliation Policy (8-503-5830)).

EMPLOYEE REPRESENTATIONS

The representations by the romantic partners also help ensure that the employees will not:

  • Disrupt the workplace by acting unprofessionally.
  • Allow the relationship to negatively impact their work.
  • Negatively impact the environment of those around them.

Finally, the representations reiterate that the employees:

  • Are aware of the employer’s anti- harassment policy.
  • Will not violate the policy in any way.
  • Will follow its procedures for reporting any harassing behavior.

This minimizes risk of a harassment claim and increases the likelihood of being able to use the Faragher-Ellerth defense in litigation if necessary.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, the undersigned have executed this Agreement as of the [DAY OF MONTH] day of [MONTH], [YEAR].

Dated this________________________day of______________________,__________.

Employees:

________________________
(Employee Signature)

________________________
(Printed Name)

________________________
(Employee Signature)

________________________
(Printed Name)

Witness:

________________________
(Witness Signature)

________________________
(Printed Name)

Created by: Joseph L. Beachboard, Ogletree Deakins, With Practical Law Labor & Employment

Reprinted here with permission of Thomson Reuters

Why Romantic Workplace Relationships Develop

Robert Quinn was the first researcher to examine why individuals decide to engage in romantic workplace relationships.51 Renee Cowan and Sean Horan more recently updated the list of motives Quinn created.52 Cowan and Horan found that the modern worker engages in romantic workplace relationships for one of four reasons: ease of opportunity, similarity, time, and the hookup. The first three of these motives are very similar to other motives one generally sees in interpersonal relationships in general. Furthermore, these categories were not mutually exclusive categories. Let’s examine these motives in more detail

Ease of Opportunity

The first reason people engage in romantic workplace relationships; happens because work fosters an environment where people are close to one another. We interact with a broad range of people in the workplace, so finding someone that one is romantically attracted to is not that surprising. This is similar to the idea of propinquity discussed by Pierce, Byrne, and Aguinis in their romantic workplace relationship development model discussed earlier in this chapter.53

Similarity

The second motive discussed by Cowan and Horan is , or finding that others in the workplace may have identical personalities, interests, backgrounds, desires, needs, goals, etc.… As discussed earlier in this book, we know that when people perceive others as having the same attitude, background, or demographic similarities (homophily), we perceive them as more like us and are more likely to enter into relationships with those people. The longer we get to know those people, the greater that probability that we may decide to turn this into a special peer relationship or a romantic workplace relationship.

Time

As we discussed at the very beginning of this chapter, we spend a lot of our life at work. In a typical year, we spend around 92.71 days at work (50-weeks a year * 5 days a week * 8.9 hours per day). You ultimately spend more with your coworkers than you do with almost any other group of people outside your immediate family. When you spend this much time with people, we learn about them and develop a sense of who they are and what they’re like. We also know that time is a strong factor when predicting sexual attraction.54

The Hook Up

Speaking of sexual attraction, the final motive people have for engaging in romantic workplace relationships was called “the hook up” by Cowan and Horan. The purpose of ” is casual sex without any romantic entanglements. Unlike the other three motives, this one is less about creating a romantic workplace relationship, and more about achieving mutual sexual satisfaction with one’s coworker. In Cowan and Horan’s study, they did note, “What we found interesting about this theme was that it was only attributed to coworker’s WRs. Although several participants described WRs they had engaged in, this motive was never attributed to those pursuit.”55

How Coworkers View Romantic Workplace Relationships

The final part of this section is going to examine the research related to how coworkers view these romantic workplace relationships. The overwhelming majority of us will never engage in a romantic workplace relationship, but most (if not all) of us will watch others who do. Sometimes these relationships work out, but often these relationships don’t. Some researchers have examined how coworkers view their peers who are engaging in romantic workplace relationships.

  • Coworkers trust peers less when they were involved in a romantic workplace relationship with a supervisor than with a different organizational member.56
  • Coworkers reported less honest and accurate self-disclosures to peers when they were involved in a romantic workplace relationship with a supervisor than with a different organizational member.57
  • “[C]oworkers perceived a peer dating a superior to be more driven by job motives and less by love motives than they perceived peer dating individuals of any other status type.”58
  • Coworkers reported that they felt their peers were more likely to get an unfair advantage when dating one’s leader rather a coworker at a different level of the hierarchy.59
  • Peers dating subordinates were also felt to get an unfair advantage than peers dating people outside the organization.60
  • Gay or lesbian peers who dated a leader were trusted less, deceived more, and perceived as less credible than a peer dating a peer.61
  • “[O]rganizational peers are less likely to deceive gay and lesbian peers involved in WRs and to perceive gay and lesbian peers in WRs as more caring and of higher character than heterosexual peers who date at work.” 62
  • Women who saw higher levels of sexual behavior in the workplace have lower levels of job satisfaction, but there was no relationship between observing sexual behaviors at work and job satisfaction for men.63
  • When taking someone’s level of job satisfaction out of the picture, people who saw higher levels of sexual behavior in the workplace were more likely to look for another job.64

As you can see, dating in the workplace and open displays of sexuality in the workplace have some interesting outcomes for both the individuals involved in the relationship, their peers, and the organization.

Key Takeaways

  • According to Charles Pierce, Donn Byrne, and Herman Aguinis, a romantic workplace relationship occurs when “two employees have acknowledged their mutual attraction to one another and have physically acted upon their romantic feelings in the form of a dating or otherwise intimate association.”
  • Charles Pierce, Donn Byrne, and Herman Aguinis’ model of romantic workplace relationships (Seen in Figure 13.6) have six basic stages: propinquity, interpersonal attraction, romantic attraction, desire for romantic relationship, engage in workplace relationship, and outcomes of workplace relationship (personal, professional, and organizational).
  • Renee Cowan and Sean Horan found four basic reasons why romantic workplace relationships occur: ease of opportunity, similarity, time, and the hookup. First, relationships develop because we are around people a lot, and we are naturally drawn to some people around us. Second, we perceive ourselves as similar to coworkers having identical personalities, interests, backgrounds, desires, needs, goals, etc.… Third, we spend a lot of time at work and the more we spend time with people the closer relationships become and can turn into romantic ones. Lastly, some people engage in romantic workplace relationships casual sex without any kind of romantic entanglements, known as the hookup.
  • As a whole, the research on coworkers and their perceptions of romantic workplace relationships are generally more in favor of individuals (both gay/lesbian and straight) who engage in relationships with coworkers at the same level. Coworkers do not perceive their peers positively when they are dating someone at a more senior level (especially one’s direct supervisor). Furthermore, observing coworkers engaging in sexual behaviors tends to lead to decreases in job satisfaction, which can lead to an increase in one’s desire to find another job.

Exercises

  • Where do you think the difference lies between romantic workplace relationships and sexual harassment?
  • When you evaluate the reasons people engage in romantic workplace relationships described by Renee Cowan and Sean Horan, do you think their list is complete? Do you believe there are other reasons people engage in romantic workplace relationships?
  • If you decided to engage in a romantic workplace relationship, would you be comfortable signing a “love contract” with your human resources department? Does your opinion differ if the target of your romantic affection is a follower, peer, or leader?

13.5 Problematic Workplace Relationships

Learning Objectives

  1. Define and explain the term deviant workplace behavior.
  2. Explain Janie Harden Fritz’s six types of problematic bosses.
  3. Describe Janie Harden Fritz’s eight types of problematic coworkers.
  4. Assess Janie Harden Fritz’s five types of problematic subordinates.

Eventually, everyone is going to run into someone within the workplace that is going to drive you crazy. There are a ton of books out there designed to help you deal with difficult people, toxic people, workplace vampires, jerks, energy drainers, etc.… Some of these people are just irritants while other problem people can be more egregious (e.g., aggressive, bullying, deviating from work norms, overly cynical about everything, etc.). We view these people as problem people because they ultimately take more of our resources to deal with. There’s a reason some writers refer to problem people as because we have to use more of our emotional resources to deal with these people, and they increase our levels of stress along the way.66 In this section, we are going to explore the different types of “problem people” we come in contact within the workplace and how we can strive towards workplace civility. In the organizational literature, we often refer to these people as engaging in , or voluntary behavior of organizational members that violates significant organizational norms and practices or threatens the wellbeing of the organization and its members.

Research on problem people in the workplace tends to demonstrate that we have problem people at all levels of the organization. We have problematic bosses, peers, and subordinates. In an attempt to understand the types of problem people individuals face in the workplace, in 2002 Janie Harden Fritz created a typology of the different types of problem people we encounter in the workplace,67 which was later updated in 2009.68 Figure 13.7 shows the typology. In this typology, Harden Fritz discusses how different positions in the workplace can lead to varying types of problem people. Let’s examine each of these individually.

Bosses: The Different boss, the good old boy/girl boss, the okay boss, the toxic boss, the self centered taskmaster, the intrusive harasser. Coworkers: the adolescent, the mild annoyance, the bully, the independant self-promoter, the pushy playboy/playgirl, the independant other, the soap opera star, the abrasive, incompetent harasser. Subordinates: The okay subordinate, the abrasive harasser, the bully, the different other, the incompetent renegade.
Figure 13.7 Problematic People in the Workplace

Problem Bosses

Through Harden Fritz’s research into bosses, she found that there are six common types of problematic bosses: different, okay good old boy/girl, toxic, self-centered taskmaster, and intrusive harasser.

The Different Boss

First, The Different Boss is someone a subordinate sees as distractingly different from them as a person. Different subordinates are going to view what is “distractingly different” in a wide range of different ways. Some people who view their bosses as “distractingly different” may also be succumbing to their prejudices about people from various social groups.

Good Old Boy or Good Old Girl Boss

Second, is the Good Old Boy or Good Old Girl Boss. This type of boss is someone who probably hasn’t progressed along with the modern world of corporate thinking. This person may be gregarious and outgoing, but this person tends to see the “old ways of doing things” as best – even when they’re problematic. These individuals tend to see sexual harassment as something that isn’t a big deal in the workplace. Their subordinates are also more likely to view some of their behaviors as unethical.

Okay Boss

The third type of boss is the Okay Boss. This person is exactly like the name says, okay and average in just about every way possible. These individuals are, in many ways, coasting towards retirement. They try not to rock the boat within the organization, so they will never stand up to their bosses, nor will they advocate for their subordinates. For someone who likes work and wants to succeed in life, working for one of these people can be very frustrating because they like the average and can create an environment where the average is the norm, and people who exceed the average are the outcasts.

The Toxic Boss

Fourth, we have the toxic boss. These bosses are just all-around problematic in the workplace. These people are often seen as unethical, obnoxious, and unprofessional by their subordinates. These are the types of bosses that can create reasonably hostile work environments and pit employees against each other for their amusement. However, when it comes to harassing behavior, they are less likely to engage in harassment directly. Still, they can often create environments where both sexual harassment and bullying become the norm.

Self-Centered Taskmaster

The fifth type of problematic boss is the self-centered taskmaster. The self-centered taskmaster is ultimately “focused on getting the job done to advance his/her own goals, without concern for others.”69 This type of boss is purely focused on getting work done. This individual may be excessive in the amount of work they give subordinates. Ultimately, this individual wants to show their superiors how good of a boss they are to move up the organizational hierarchy. On the flip side, these people are highly competent, but their tendency to lord power over others in an obnoxious way makes working for this type of boss very stressful.

The Intrusive Harasser Boss

Sixth, we have the intrusive harasser boss. This individual tends to be highly interfering and often wants to get caught up in their subordinates’ personal and professional lives. They are likely to be overly attentive in the workplace, which can interfere with an individual’s ability to complete their task assignments. Furthermore, this boss is likely to be one who engages in activities like sexual harassment, backstabbing, and busybody behavior.

Problem Coworkers

Through Harden Fritz’s research into coworkers, she found that there are eight common types of problematic coworkers: adolescent, bully, mild annoyance, independent self-promoter, pushy playboy/playgirl, independent other, soap opera star, and the abrasive, incompetent harasser.

Adolescent

The first common problematic coworker you can have is the adolescent. The adolescent is the Peter Pan of the business world, they don’t want to grow up. These people tend to want to be the center of attention and will be the first to let everyone know when they’ve accomplished something. You almost feel like you need to give them a Scooby Snack just for doing their job. However, if someone dares to question them, they tend to become very defensive, probably because they don’t want others to know how insecure they feel.

Bully

Second, we have the bully. Bullying is sadly alive and well in corporate America. This individual has a knack of being overly demanding on their peers, but then dares to take credit for their peers’ work when the time comes. This is your prototypical schoolyard bully all grown up and in an office job. In 2005, Charlotte Rayner and Loraleigh Keashly examined the available definitions for “workplace bullying” and derived at five specific characteristics:

  1. the experience of negative behavior;
  2. behaviors experienced persistently;
  3. targets experiencing damage;
  4. targets labeling themselves as bullied; and
  5. targets with less power and difficulty defending themselves.70

You’ll notice from this list that being a bully isn’t a one-off behavior for these coworkers. This behavior targets individuals in a highly negative manner, happens over a long period, and can have long-term psychological and physiological ramifications for individuals who are targeted. We should note that more often than not, bullies do not happen in isolation, but more often than not run in packs. For this reason, a lot of European research on this subject has been called mobbing instead of bullying. Sadly, this is an all-too-often occurrence in the modern work world. In a large study examining 148 international corporations through both qualitative and quantitative methods, Randy Hodson, Vincent Roscigno, and Steven Lopez reported that 49 percent of the organizations they investigated had routine patterns of workplace bullying.71

Mild Annoyance

The third type of problematic coworker is the mild annoyance. When it comes down to it, this person isn’t going to ruin your day, but they are mildly annoying and tend to be so on a routine basis. Maybe it’s a coworker who wants to come in every morning and talk to you about what they watched on television the night before while you’re trying to catch up on email. Or maybe it’s the coworker who plays music a little too loudly in the workplace. There are all kinds of things that can annoy us as human beings, so the mildly annoying coworker is one that generally is tolerated.

Independent Self-Promoter

Fourth, we have the independent self-promoter. The independent self-promoter is someone who likes to toot their own horn at work. This individual tends to be slight to extremely narcissistic and thinks the world revolves around them. These individuals are not the type to take credit for other people’s work, but they also aren’t the type to do work that needs to be done unless they see its utility in making them look good.

Pushy Playboy/Playgirl

The fifth problematic coworker is the pushy playboy/playgirl. The pushy playboy/playgirl is an individual marked by their tendency to push other coworkers into doing things for the pushy playboy/playgirl. Often these tasks have nothing to do with work at all. For example, the pushy playboy/playgirl would be the type of person to demand that a younger or more submissive coworker run down the street for a Starbucks run. Furthermore, these are the types of people who tend to be overly demanding of coworkers and then misrepresent their performance to those higher up in the corporate food chain.

Independent Other

The sixth common problematic coworker is the independent other. In many ways, the independent other is similar to the different bosses discussed earlier. These people tend to be perceived as uniquely different from their coworkers. There are a lot of characteristics that can make someone viewed as uniquely other. Any specific demographic that goes against the workplace norm could be cause for perceiving someone as different: age, sex, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, race, etc.… Some people may view them as having a low work ethic, but this perception may stem out of that perceived “otherness.”

Soap Opera Star

The seventh common problematic coworker identified by Harden Fritz is the Soap Opera Star.72 The soap opera star lives for drama in the workplace. New rumors of office romances? This person will have the 411 and probably a Tumblr page devoted to the couple. For this reason, this person tends to be a busybody to the nth degree and will be all up in everyone’s business both at work and in their personal lives. Because of their tendency towards drama (both finding it and often creating it), they are generally seen as highly distracting by their peers. At the same time, they tend to spend so much time digging for office gossip that they are typically perceived as having a poor work ethic by others.

Abrasive, Incompetent Harasser

The final type of problematic coworker is the abrasive, incompetent harasser, which is an individual who tends to be highly uncivil in the workplace with a particular emphasis on sexually harassing behavior. This coworker is very similar to the intrusive harasser boss discussed earlier. This individual is generally viewed as incompetent and unprofessional in the workplace. This person tends to score high on all of the problematic work behaviors commonly seen by coworkers.

Mindfulness Activity

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There are a ton of books on the market designed for business people to help them get along with their coworkers. Like it or not, but we all are going to work with people that drive us crazy. So, what’s a mindful way to approach these situations when you have to interact with a coworker is far from being mindful. As usual, our first steps should always be attention, intention, and attitude. However, we can only control our perspectives about others and not their behaviors.

Think of a time when you had to interact with a coworker who was not behaving mindfully.

  1. How was their behavior problematic? How did you feel challenged by this person?
  2. What was the outcome of this person’s behavior on your mindfulness practice, your relationship, or your work?
  3. If others were involved, how did they respond?
  4. What role (if any) did you play in triggering this person’s behavior?
  5. What will take away from this experience? How can you approach this person more mindfully in the future?

Research Spotlight

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In 2017, Stacy Tye-Williams and Kathleen J. Krone wanted to examine the advice given to victims of workplace bullying. Going into this study, the researchers realized that a lot of the advice given to victims makes it their personal responsibility to end the bullying, “You should just stand up to the bully” or “You’re being too emotional this.”

In the current study, the researchers interviewed 48 people who had been the victims of workplace bullying (the average age was 28). The participants had worked on average for 5 ½ years in the organization where they were bullied. Here are the top ten most common pieces of advice victims received:

  1. Quit/get out
  2. Ignore it/blow it off/do not let it affect you
  3. Fight/stand up
  4. Stay calm
  5. Report the bullying
  6. Be quiet/keep mouth shut
  7. Be rational
  8. Journal
  9. Avoid the bully
  10. Toughen up

The researchers discovered three underlying themes of advice. First, participants reported that they felt they were being told to downplay their emotional experiences as victims. Second, was what the researchers called the “dilemma of advice,” or the tendency to believe that the advice given wasn’t realistic and wouldn’t change anything. Furthermore, many who followed the advice reported that it made things worse, not better. Lastly, the researchers noted the “paradox of advice.” Some participants wouldn’t offer advice because bullying is contextual and needs a more contextually-based approach. Yet others admitted that they offered the same advice to others that they’d been offered, even when they knew the advice didn’t help them at all.

The researches ultimately concluded, “The results of this study point to a paradoxical relationship between advice and its usefulness. Targets felt that all types of advice are potentially useful. However, the advice either would not have worked in their case or could possibly be detrimental if put into practice.”73 Ultimately, the researchers argue that responding to bullying must first take into account the emotions the victim is receiving, and that responses to bullying should be a group and not a single individual’s efforts.

Tye-Williams, S., & Krone, K. J. (2017). Identifying and re-imagining the paradox of workplace bullying advice. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 45(2), 218–235. https://doi.org/10.1080/00909882.2017.1288291

Problem Subordinates

In the two previous sections, we’ve looked at problematic bosses and coworkers, but subordinates can also be a bit of a problem in the workplace. For this reason, Harden Fritz identified five clear troublesome subordinates: the okay subordinate, the abrasive harasser, the bully, the different other, and the incompetent renegade.74

Okay Subordinate

First, we have the okay subordinate. Just like the name sounds, this person is not stellar, nor is this person awful; this person is just OK. This person does tend towards being a mildly annoying busybody at work. Still, none of their behavior rises to the status where a supervisor would need to step in and counsel the employee’s behavior formally.

Abrasive Harasser

Second, we have the abrasive harasser. The abrasive harasser is an individual who tends to be someone who needs counseling regularly about what constitutes sexual harassment. They may not even always realize what types of behavior are appropriate in the workplace. For example, this subordinate could forward their supervisor a sexual joke via email without thinking others could perceive the joke as inappropriate in the workplace. On the more advanced end, you have people who are perpetual sexual harassers who need to be severely counseled to protect the organization and start the process of firing the person for harassing behavior.

The Bully

The next common problem subordinate is the bully. According to Harden Fritz, this subordinate is one “who bosses others, usurps authority, is competitive and is at the same time insecure.”75 If this person’s behavior is not curtailed by their supervisor, this type of behavior can quickly become infectious and end up hurting cohesion throughout the entire office. Furthermore, supervisors need to recognize this behavior and ensure that the targets of the bully have a safe and secure place to work. Don’t be surprised if this person decides to bully upward, or attempt to bully their supervisor because it can happen.

The Different Other

The fourth common problem subordinate is the different other. Just like the two previous versions of “difference” discussed for bosses and coworkers, the different other is a subordinate who is perceived as distinctly different from their supervisor. One thing we know from years of management research is that people who are perceived as different from their supervisors are less likely to enjoy protective and mentoring relationships with their supervisors. As such, when a supervisor views someone as a “different other,” they may engage in subconscious discriminatory behavior towards their subordinate.

Incompetent Renegade

Finally, we have the incompetent renegade. This individual tends to be ethically incompetent and views themself as above the law within the organization. This individual may view themself as better than the organization to begin with, which causes a lot of problems around the office. However, instead of accomplishing their work, this person is more likely to take credit for others’ work. If this subordinate is allowed to keep behaving in this manner, they will be viewed by others as running the place. For this reason, subordinates need to stop this behavior when they see it occurring and immediately initiate counseling to stop the behavior and build a case for termination if the behavior does not cease.

Key Takeaways

  • Workplace deviance involves the voluntary behavior of organizational members that violates significant organizational norms and practices or threatens the wellbeing of the organization and its members.
  • Janie Harden Fritz categorized six types of problematic bosses: different, okay good old boy/girl, toxic, self-centered taskmaster, and intrusive harasser. First, the different boss is someone a subordinate sees as distractingly different from them as a person. Second, the good old boy/girl boss considers the “old ways of doing things” as best – even when they’re problematic. Third, the OK boss kay and average in just about every way possible coasting towards retirement. Fourth, the toxic boss is seen as unethical, obnoxious, and unprofessional by their subordinates. Fifth, the self-centered taskmaster is entirely concerned with completing tasks with no concern for developing relationships with their followers. Lastly, the intrusive harasser boss tends to be highly interfering and often wants to get caught up in their subordinates’ personal and professional lives.
  • Janie Harden Fritz categorized eight types of problematic coworkers: adolescent (wants to be the center of attention and get nothing done), bully (is overly demanding of their peers and takes credit for their work), mild annoyance (they engage in disruptive behaviors regularly but not to a drastic degree), independent self-promoter (likes to toot their own horn), pushy playboy/playgirl (pushes people into doing things for them), independent other (perceived as distinctly different from their coworkers), soap opera star (loves to gossip and be in the middle of all of the workplace drama), and the abrasive, incompetent harasser (is highly uncivil in the workplace with a special emphasis in sexually harassing behavior).
  • Janie Harden Fritz categorized five types of problematic subordinates: the okay subordinate, the abrasive harasser, the bully, the different other, and the incompetent renegade. First, the okay substitute is a follower who is not stellar or awful, just very much middle of the road. Second, the abrasive harasser is an individual who tends to be someone who needs counseling regularly about what constitutes sexual harassment. Third, the bully is someone who bosses their peers around, usurps authority, and engages in hypercompetitive behavior when competition is not necessary (all signs of someone who is deeply insecure). Fourth, the different other is a follower who is perceived as distinctly different from their supervisor. Finally, the incompetent renegade is ethically incompetent and views themself as above the law within the organization.

Exercises

  • Which of the six types of problematic bosses would you have the most problem working for? Why?
  • In both the coworker and subordinate categories, “difference” is viewed as a problem in the workplace. Why do you think so many workers have a problem with difference? How should management approach situations where difference is impacting coworker relationships or leader-follower relationships?
  • Think of a time when you’ve worked with a problematic coworker. Which of Janie Harden Fritz’s eight types of problematic coworkers did your coworker fit into (it’s possible to fit into more than one)? How did you handle this coworker relationship?

Key Terms

career strategizing

The process of creating a plan of action for one’s career path and trajectory.

collegial peers

Type of coworker with whom we have moderate levels of trust and self-disclosure and more openness that is shared between two individuals.

cost escalation

A form of relational disengagement involving tactics that are designed to make the cost of maintaining the relationship higher than getting out of the relationship.

depersonalization

A form of relational disengagement where an individual stops all the interaction that is not task-focused or simply to avoids the person.

deviant workplace behavior

The voluntary behavior of organizational members that violates significant organizational norms and practices or threatens the wellbeing of the organization and its members.

directive support

The factor of Hersey and Blanchard Situational-Leadership Model involves a leader overseeing the day-to-day tasks that a follower accomplishes.

ease of opportunity

Reason explaining romantic workplace relationships happen because work fosters an environment where people are close to one another.

emotional vampires

A colloquial term used to describe individuals with whom we interact that use more of our emotional resources when interacting with people, which often causes an increase in our levels of stress.

ethics

The judgmental attachment to whether something is good, right, or just.

excuse-making

Any time an individual attempts to shift the blame for an individual’s behavior from reasons more central to the individual to sources outside of their control in the attempt to make themselves look better and more in control.

followership

The act or condition under which an individual helps or supports a leader in the accomplishment of organizational goals.

formal language

Specific writing and spoken style that adheres to strict conventions of grammar that uses complex sentences, full words, and the third person.

informal language

Specific writing and spoken style that is more colloquial or common in tone; contains simple, direct sentences; uses contractions and abbreviations; and allows for a more personal approach that includes emotional displays.

information peers

Type of coworker who we rely on for information about job tasks and the organization itself.

jargon

The specialized or technical language particular to a specific profession, occupation, or group that is either meaningless or difficult for outsiders to understand.

leader-member exchange

Theory of leadership that explores how leaders enter into two-way relationships with followers through a series of exchange agreements enabling followers to grow or be held back.

personal responsibility

An individual’s willingness to be accountable for what they feel, think, and behave.

profession

An occupation that involves mastery of complex knowledge and skills through prolonged training, education, or practical experience.

professionalism

The aims and behaviors that demonstrate an individual’s level of competence expected by a professional within a given profession.

relational maintenance

“[T]he degree of difficulty individuals experience in interpersonal relationships due to misunderstandings, incompatibility of goals, and the time and effort necessary to cope with disagreements.”

romantic workplace relationship

When “two employees have acknowledged their mutual attraction to one another and have physically acted upon their romantic feelings in the form of a dating or otherwise intimate association.”65

similarity

Reason explaining romantic workplace relationships occur because people find coworkers have identical personalities, interests, backgrounds, desires, needs, goals, etc.…

social support

The perception and actuality that an individual receives assistance, care, and help from those people within their life.

special peer

Type of coworker relationship marked by high levels of trust and self-disclosure; like a “best friend” in the workplace.

state-of-the-relationship talk

A form of relational disengagement where an individual explains to a coworker that a workplace friendship is ending.

supportive leadership behavior

The factor of Hersey and Blanchard Situational-Leadership Model that occurs when a leader is focused on providing relational support for their followers

the hookup

Reason explaining romantic workplace relationships occur because individuals want to engage in casual sex without any romantic entanglements.

time

Reason explaining romantic workplace relationships occur because people put in a great deal of time at work, so we are around and interact with potential romantic partners a great deal of the average workday.

Chapter Wrap-Up

At the beginning of this chapter, we discussed how a good chunk of our lives is spent at work, so engaging in a range of interpersonal relationships in the workplace is unavoidable. We started the chapter by defining the term “professionalism” and what it means to be a professional in today’s workplace. We then scratched the surface of the communication and leadership research that examines leadership and followership. We then discussed one of the most common relationships we have in the workplace, the coworker relationship. Coworker relationships were followed by an examination of romantic entanglements in the workplace, along with their pros and cons. We end this chapter looking at problematic interpersonal relationships in the workplace.

13.6 Chapter Exercises

Real-World Case Study

Morren Michaels had been working with Raja Rahal for several years, and the two were pretty friendly with each other. They sent out to eat after work and often strategized on how to make their office better. The two weren’t exactly best friends in the workplace, but they were friends.

Out of nowhere, Morren is promoted by the CEO of the company and asked to take over the realms of her division. At first, things were smooth sailing. Morren had no problems, and she had the division being more profitable than it had under the previous manager. However, Morren quickly realized she was going to have problems with her old friend Raja. Almost immediately, Raja pointed out that Morren was “not one of us” anymore to the rest of the division since Morren was now in management. At first, it was a snide remark, but things quickly started escalating.

Anytime Raja wouldn’t get her way, she would email everyone up the corporate ladder with her complaints against Morren (e.g., the head of HR, the CEO, the chief operating officer, etc.). In Morren’s mind, all she was doing was expecting the same level of work from Raja as she did from anyone else in her division. One day in a meeting, Morren asked Raja to take on a new project. Surprisingly, Raja said yes and thought it was a good fit for her. Morren asked Raja to give the group an update on the project at the next meeting.

Throughout the next month, Morren checked in with Raja to see how the project was going. Raja scheduled a couple of meetings with Morren to talk about the project, but had to cancel because she was sick or her kid was sick. Morren even suggested meeting at a coffee shop near Raja’s house to make things easier, but Raja had to bail out because she’d forgotten she’d scheduled another appointment.

Ultimately, the day of the next meeting came. When Morren got to the place on the agenda where Raja was supposed to report in, Raja looked at the entire group and said, “I never agreed to do that.” Morren sat stunned as the rest of the division sat there uncomfortably. Finally, Morren pulled herself together and informed Raja that she had indeed agreed to take on the project. And that the meeting minutes from the previous meeting along with the tape recording of the last meeting, the secretary kept had her agreeing.

After the meeting, Morren goes back into her office and closes the door. She’s a bit dumbfounded by what transpired. After the meeting, many of her coworkers came up to her to see if she was OK. They all said variations of the same thing, “We heard her agree to take on the project last month.” Thankfully, Morren had the secretary record their meetings to make taking notes easier. She then put the audio recordings on an internal server so all members of the department could relisten to them if necessary.

Morren sat her desk and opened her email and quickly noticed an email from Raja. Morren could only imagine what the email would say. As she read the email, she was concerned at how twisted the facts of what had transpired had become. Raja accused Morren of embarrassing her during the meeting by falsely accusing her of not having done her job. Of course, the email was copied to everyone within the division and the higher corporate hierarchy.

  1. Why do you think Morren and Raja’s relationship changed when Morren took on a position of leadership?
  2. What type of problematic follower do you think Raja is?
  3. If you were Morren, what would your next step be? Why?

End-of-Chapter Assessment Head

  1. In an attempt to make herself look good in the organization, Agotha tends to hoard information. If something important comes across her desk, she tends to keep it instead of giving it to the people who could use the information. What type of unethical organizational communication is Agotha engaging in, according to W. Charles Redding?
    1. coercive
    2. destructive
    3. deceptive
    4. intrusive
    5. secretive
  2. Which of the following is NOT a way to take personal responsibility in the workplace?
    1. Acknowledge that you are responsible for your choices in the workplace.
    2. Acknowledge that you are responsible for how you feel at work.
    3. Accept that you can control your stress and feelings of burnout.
    4. Decide to take control of your attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors.
    5. Decide to let your supervisor determine the best path for your self-improvement.
  3. During a meeting, Baraba says, “I will not be joining the rest of the group this weekend at the trade show due to a pre-arranged meeting I have had on my schedule for a few months.” The use of the words “will not” and “I have” instead of their contraction forms are examples of what type of language use?
    1. Common
    2. Formal
    3. Informal
    4. Jargon
    5. Peripheral
  4. At work, Stella has an inherent need to be seen as her supervisor’s peer and not as an underling. Stella does support her supervisor, but she has no problem confronting her supervisor when Stella thinks her supervisor is making a bad decision. According to Ira Chaleff, what type of follower is Stella?
    1. Avoider
    2. Implementer
    3. Individualist
    4. Partner
    5. Resource
  5. Susan always looks at her coworker Polly as a kind of problem. Polly came from a very religious upbringing and didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the people who work at GenCorp. For example, when Susan and her coworkers go out to eat, Polly doesn’t join them because her male colleagues will be there. Polly also doesn’t have any sense of pop culture at all. At a meeting recently, someone mentioned Lady Gaga, and Polly asked if she was a member of British royalty. Although everyone had a good laugh and Polly played along, Susan could tell that Polly was completely unaware of why her question was funny. According to Janie Harden Fritz, Polly is an example of what kind of “problematic coworker” for Susan?
    1. The Adolescent
    2. The Mild Annoyance
    3. The Independent Other
    4. The Soap Opera Star
    5. The Pushy Playgirl

Notes

1 U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy. (2012). Soft skills to pay the bills: Mastering soft skills for workplace success. Retrieved from http://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/youth/softskills/; pg. 114.
2 U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy. (2012). Soft skills to pay the bills: Mastering soft skills for workplace success. Retrieved from http://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/youth/softskills/; pg. 114.
3 The Oxford English Dictionary. (1963). At the Clarendon Press.
4 Redding, W. C. (1996). Ethics and the study of organizational communication: When will we wake up? In J. A. Jaksa & M. S. Pritchard (Eds.), Responsible communication: Ethical issues in business, industry, and the professions (pp.17-40). Hampton Press.
5 Lee, B. (2016). A mindful path to a compassionate cultural diversity. In. M. Chapman-Clarke (Ed.), Mindfulness in the workplace: An evidence-based approach to improving wellbeing and maximizing performance (pp. 266-287). Kogan Page.
6 Wing, D. (2010, November 17). Microaggressions in everyday life: More than just race – Can microaggressions be directed at women or gay people? Psychology Today. https://tinyurl.com/ycm6ky7n; para. 2.
7 Lee, B. (2016). A mindful path to a compassionate cultural diversity. In. M. Chapman-Clarke (Ed.), Mindfulness in the workplace: An evidence-based approach to improving wellbeing and maximizing performance (pp. 266-287). Kogan Page; pg. 283.
8 Snyder, C. R., & Higgins, R. L. (1988). Excuses: Their effective role in the negotiation of reality. Psychological Bulletin, 104(1), 23-35. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.104.1.23
9 Hill, D. J., Baer, R., & Kosenko, R. (1992). Organizational characteristics and employee excuse making: Passing the buck for failed service encounters. Advances in Consumer Research, 19, 673-678. See Also Hill, D. J., & Baer, R. (1994). Customers complain–businesses make excuses: The effects of linkage and valence. Advances in Consumer Research, 21, 399-405.
10 Bellizzi, J. A., & Norvell, D. (1991). Personal characteristics and salesperson’s justifications as moderators of supervisory discipline in cases involving unethical salesforce behavior. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 19, 11-16.
11 Nordrum, A. (2014). What’s Your Excuse? Psychology Today, 47(4), 22.
12 Payscale. (2016). 2016 Workforce-Skills Preparedness Report. Retrieved from https://www.payscale.com/data-packages/job-skills
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17 Lussier, R. N., & Achua, C. F. (2007). Leadership: Theory, application, skill development (3rd ed.). Thomson/South-Western, p. 254.
18 Graen, G.B., & Uhl-Bien, M. (1991). The transformation of professionals into self-managingand partially self-designing contributions: Toward a theory of leader-making. Journalof Management Systems, 3(3), 33-48.
19 Graen, G.B., & Uhl-Bien, M. (1991). The transformation of professionals into self-managingand partially self-designing contributions: Toward a theory of leader-making. Journalof Management Systems, 3(3), 33-48.; pg. 33.
20 Gagnon, M. A., & Michael, J. H. (2004). Outcomes of perceived supervisor support for wood production employees. Forest Products Journal, 54, 172–178.
21 Lussier, R. N., & Achua, C. F. (2007). Leadership: Theory, application, skill development (3rd ed.). Thomson/South-Western.
22 Gagnon, M. A., & Michael, J. H. (2004). Outcomes of perceived supervisor support for wood production employees. Forest Products Journal, 54, 172–178.
23 Wrench, J. S., Punyanunt Carter, N., Ward, M., Sr. (2015). Organizational communication: Theory, research, and practice. Flat World Knowledge.
24 Omilion-Hodges, L. M., & Sugg, C. E. (2019). Millennials’ views and expectations regarding the communicative and relational behaviors of leaders: Explore young adults’ talk about work. Business and Professional Communication Quarterly, 82(1), 74-100. https://doi.org/10.1177/2329490618808043
25 Omilion-Hodges, L. M., Shank, S. E., & Packard, C. M. (2019). What young adults want: A multistudy examination of vocational anticipatory socialization through the lens of students’ desired managerial communication behaviors. Management Communication Quarterly, 33(4), 512–547. https://doi.org/10.1177/0893318919851177; pg, 520.
26 Omilion-Hodges, L. M., Shank, S. E., & Packard, C. M. (2019). What young adults want: A multistudy examination of vocational anticipatory socialization through the lens of students’ desired managerial communication behaviors. Management Communication Quarterly, 33(4), 512–547. https://doi.org/10.1177/0893318919851177; pg, 524.
27 Wrench, J. S., Punyanunt Carter, N., Ward, M., Sr. (2015). Organizational communication: Theory, research, and practice. Flat World Knowledge, pg. 209.
28 Chaleff, I. (2003). The courageous follower (2nd ed.). Barrett-Koehler.
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  1. Although #MeToo gained popularity in 2017, the phrase was originally coined in 2006 by Tarana Burke to help women and girls of color who had survived sexual assault and violence.

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Interpersonal Communication by Jason S. Wrench; Narissra M. Punyanunt-Carter; and Katherine S. Thweatt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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