Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Conversational 'Black Holes' Reveal Uncertainty In Offices

Date:
February 22, 2005
Source:
Penn State
Summary:
The tension created between the supposed egalitarianism and the hierarchical realities of the American workplace can often cause conversational "black holes" during which employees avoid calling their bosses by any name, according to a Penn State researcher.

Harrisburg, Pa. –- The tension created between the supposed egalitarianism and the hierarchical realities of the American workplace can often cause conversational "black holes" during which employees avoid calling their bosses by any name, according to a Penn State researcher.

Related Articles


"Uncertainty over whether it is appropriate to call your boss 'Bob' or 'Mr. Smith' can create tension for employees in today’s workplace," says Dr. David A. Morand, professor of management at Penn State Harrisburg. "In today's organizations, subordinates often address superiors by their first name. Subordinates are at times, however, reluctant to use the first name toward more powerful others due to this form's presumption of familiarity."

At the same time, employees shy away from the main alternative, which is calling their boss by title, then last name (e.g. Mr. Brown, Ms. Smith, Dr. Lynn). Such a practice may suggest formality, exaggerated deference and even obsequiousness. The result is a conversational "black hole" when it comes to addressing the supervisor.

Morand is author of the paper, "Black Holes in Social Space: The Occurrence and Effects of Name-Avoidance in Organizations," in the current issue of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. The survey group consisted of 74 students, with an average age of 30 years, enrolled part-time in an MBA program.

Survey participants were asked about the likelihood of using name avoidance if they were to encounter their boss or boss' boss in a hall near their office. Morand measured naming patterns between employee and boss by having his subjects respond on a scale of one ("strongly disagree") to five ("strongly agree") to two statements: "I am able to be direct and to the point when speaking with this person" and "I can speak freely with this person."

"Respondents indicated that, compared to their boss or immediate supervisor, they were significantly more likely to employ name avoidance toward their bosses’ boss," the Penn State researcher notes. "In turn, they were more inclined to employ name avoidance toward their CEO in comparison to their bosses’ boss. We hypothesized that females – due to socialization patterns and their tendency to rank lower in the organizational chain of command – would be more apt than males to report using name avoidance toward their boss’ boss. This hypothesis was confirmed."

Even in organizational cultures that claim to be egalitarian, differences in status still affect personal interactions, creating the tension between power and equality.

The Penn State researcher says, "Subordinates who feel uncertainty in their relation with a superior, particularly one two or more levels removed, may hesitate to use that individual's first name. And while title-last-name is theoretically available as an alternative, this option often tends to be perceived as overly formal or conversationally awkward. Employees thus resort to name avoidance as an escape valve of least resistance."

Communicative black holes involving employee and supervisor, especially supervisors on an upper level, can be corrected once both parties realize what is happening.

"When employees experience qualms about addressing a superior by his or her first name, they can either muster the courage to use the first name or call their superior by title and last name, thus verbally letting the superior know that they do not feel comfortable with first names," Morand notes. "Corporations can also resolve the problem of how to address superiors by having an explicit policy that spells out the appropriate situations for using first names."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Penn State. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Penn State. "Conversational 'Black Holes' Reveal Uncertainty In Offices." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 February 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/02/050218133528.htm>.
Penn State. (2005, February 22). Conversational 'Black Holes' Reveal Uncertainty In Offices. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 1, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/02/050218133528.htm
Penn State. "Conversational 'Black Holes' Reveal Uncertainty In Offices." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/02/050218133528.htm (accessed February 1, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

NFL Concussions Down; Still on Parents' Minds

NFL Concussions Down; Still on Parents' Minds

AP (Jan. 30, 2015) The NFL announced this week that the number of game concussions dropped by a quarter over last season. Still, the dangers of the sport still weigh on players, and parents&apos; minds. (Jan. 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Study Shows Newborn Chicks Count From Left to Right Just Like Humans

Study Shows Newborn Chicks Count From Left to Right Just Like Humans

Buzz60 (Jan. 30, 2015) Researchers for the first time identified human&apos;s innate preference for associating low and high numbers with the left and right respectively in another species. Jen Markham (@jenmarkham) explains. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Best Mood Elevating, Feel Good Shakes & Smoothies

Best Mood Elevating, Feel Good Shakes & Smoothies

Buzz60 (Jan. 30, 2015) You can elevate your mood by having a meal in a glass. Fitness and nutrition expert John Basedow (@JohnBasedow) offers the best &apos;feel good&apos; smoothies and shakes chock full of depression-relieving ingredients...including apples, berries, lemons, cucumbers, papaya, kiwi, spinach, kale, whey protein, matcha, ginger, turmeric and cinnamon. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Poll Says Firstborn Is Responsible, Youngest Is Funnier

Poll Says Firstborn Is Responsible, Youngest Is Funnier

Newsy (Jan. 30, 2015) According to a poll out of the U.K., eldest siblings feel more responsible and successful than their younger siblings. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins