Managerial Accounts and Fairness Perceptions in Conflict Resolution
D. Ramona Bobocel, Sharon E. Agar, John P. Meyer, and P. Gregory Irving
Past research demonstrating the fairness-enhancing effects of managerial accounts of controversial organizational decisions typically has confounded two dimensions -- whether the manager minimizes personal responsibility for the decision and whether the manager offers a justification legitimizing the decision. We manipulated these two dimensions, within the context of third-party conflict resolution, to determine their independent effects on perceptions of fairness and reactions to the account giver. One hundred thirty-five undergraduates read a case, written from the perspective of the "losing" party, describing a dispute between two employees that was ultimately resolved by a managerial third party in a way that favored one employee over the other. In the case, the manager either minimized personal responsibility for the resolution or assumed responsibility; cross-cutting this manipulation, the manager either provided a justification that appealed to superordinate organizational goals or provided no justification. Results showed that, in conditions in which the manager offered a justification for the unfavorable resolution, there were positive effects on respondents' perceptions of procedural, interactional, and distributive fairness. In contrast, minimizing responsibility had tradeoff effects: Whereas this tactic had a positive effect on interactional fairness perceptions, it had adverse side effects (viz., reducing perceptions of the manager's power and leadership ability). Implications of our findings for theory and research on managerial accounts and the attribution of leadership, as well as for conflict resolution, are discussed.