Stone heart versus soft heart: Observers reactions toward victims of abusive supervision

    Project: Research project

    Project Details


    Abusive supervision refers to supervisors’ sustained display of hostile verbal and nonverbal behavior toward subordinates (Tepper, 2000). The majority of the literature in this area focuses on the direct influence of abusive supervision on abused subordinates (e.g., Ashforth, 1997; Harris, Kacmar, & Zivnuska, 2007; Tepper, 2000, 2007; Xu, Huang, Lam, & Miao, 2012), with little attention paid to its consequences for the observers who witness or hear about a supervisor’s abusive treatment of a specific colleague (Mitchell, Vogel, & Folger, 2013). Evidence on workplace mistreatment shows that an observer may react to an incident of such mistreatment either sympathetically or unsympathetically (O’Reilly & Aquino, 2011; Skarlicki et al., 1998). It is critical to understand why and when observers interact with victims in a compassionate or callous manner (Mitchell et al., 2013; Skarlicki & Kulik, 2005). We believe that such an investigation will extend the abusive supervision research by examining such supervision’s broader influence on ongoing interpersonal and social interactions among coworkers.

    In addressing our research questions, we will draw on moral exclusion theory (Opotow, 1990, 1995). We propose that observers’ reaction to a victim of abusive supervision depends on whether the victim falls within their scope of justice in which fair and moral judgment is applied. When the victim is within the scope of justice, observers are likely to react with a soft heart, i.e., be sympathetic and provide emotional support. However, when he or she falls outside it, they are likely to react with a stone heart, i.e., feel pleased at the victim’s misfortune and even blame and/or exhibit incivility toward him or her (Bar-On, 2001; Opotow & Weiss, 2000). Following the dominant self-interest rationale (Kollock, 1998; Miller, 1999), and drawing on the competition literature (e.g., Menon & Thompson, 2007; Tesser, 1988), we further propose that whether a victim is perceived as a rival or an ally greatly influences the extent to which he or she is morally excluded from the scope of justice by the observer. Furthermore, building on recent studies on the link between high performers and interpersonal harm (Kim & Glomb, 2010; Lam, Van der Vegt, Walter, & Huang, 2011), we propose that job performance is not merely the endpoint of one’s job experiences but also a starting point of one’s interpersonal interactions (Jensen, 2012). Members may perceive a higher-performing teammate as a threat under a high intragroup competition condition but as an asset under high intergroup competition. In contrast, a low-performing member may not impose a threat but be perceived as liability under high intergroup competition. Such perceptions may determine their reactions to victims’ abusive supervision experience. Finally, drawing on the social intuition model (Haidt, 2001), we propose sympathy and Schadenfreude, two discrete emotions, as mediating mechanisms linking observed abusive supervision and sympathetic and unsympathetic behavior, respectively.

    Our pilot study has provided initial evidence supporting part of our theoretical framework. To fully test our model, we will use a multi-method, multi-sampling longitudinal research design, which will include three scenario-based surveys and two independent longitudinal field surveys with three data collection waves.
    Effective start/end date1/01/1531/12/17


    Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.