Powerful people may shake off rebuffs

Jan. 27, 2013 at 10:08 PM
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BERKELEY, Calif., Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Employees often tiptoe around their bosses for fear of offending them but U.S. researchers say those in power may have thicker skin than employees think.

Lead author Maya Kuehn, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and fellow researchers conducted five experiments that examined power dynamics in the workplace and in intimate relationships -- focusing on how power influences responses to subtle acts of rejection.

A total of 445 men and women ages 18-82 participated.

In one experiment, study participants were assigned either high- or low-level positions in a workplace, and then were told they hadn't been invited to an office happy-hour gathering. While low-level employees reported feeling stung by the rejection, the high-power ones were relatively unfazed and more likely to seek out other social bonding activities, such as a hiking club, to improve relations with their coworkers.

In another experiment, participants were told they would be working with someone in either a supervisory or a subordinate role. They corresponded with that person and received feedback that could be perceived as a snub or mild rejection.

Those who had been assigned supervisory roles acted with indifference to perceived snubs from their underlings while subordinates took offense to comparable barbs from their bosses, Kuehn said.

"When rejected instead of accepted, subordinates reported lower self-esteem and greater negative emotion, but supervisors did not show an adverse reaction to rejection," Kuehn said.

The findings were presented at the annual conference of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in New Orleans.

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