Pacification or aggravation? The effects of talking about supervisor unfairness

Michael Baer, Jessica B. Rodell, Rashpal K. Dhensa-Kahlon, Jason A. Colquitt, Kate P. Zipay, Rachel Burgess, Ryan Outlaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Many employees feel a general sense of unfairness toward their supervisors. A common reaction to such unfairness is to talk about it with coworkers. The conventional wisdom is that this unfairness talk should be beneficial to the aggrieved employees. After all, talking provides employees with an opportunity to make sense of the experience and to “let off steam.” We challenge this perspective, drawing on cognitive-motivational-relational theory to develop arguments that unfairness talk leads to emotions that reduce the employee’s ability to move on from the unfairness. We first tested these proposals in a three-wave, two-source field study of bus drivers (Study 1), then replicated our findings in a laboratory study (Study 2). In both studies, we found that unfairness talk was positively related to anger and negatively related to hope. Those emotions went on to have direct effects on forgiveness and indirect effects on citizenship behavior. Our results also show that the detrimental effects of unfairness talk were neutralized when the listener offered suggestions that reframed the unfair situation. We discuss the implications of these results for managing unfairness in organizations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1764-1788
Number of pages25
JournalAcademy of Management Journal
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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