Impressed by Impression Management: Newcomer Reactions to Ingratiated Supervisors

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Abstract

Organizational newcomers are unfamiliar with many aspects of their workplace and look for information to help them reduce uncertainty and better understand their new environment. One aspect critical to newcomers is the disposition of their supervisor—the person who arguably can impact the newcomer’s career the most. To form an impression of their new supervisor, newcomers look to social cues from coworkers who have interpersonal contact with the supervisor. In the present research, we investigate the ways newcomers use observed ingratiation—a common impression management strategy whereby coworkers try to appear likable (Schlenker, 1980)—to form impressions of a supervisor’s warmth. Research on social influence cannot easily account for how third parties will interpret ingratiation, as the behaviors linked to ingratiation suggest something positive about the target, yet the unsavory aspects of the behavior imply it may not have the same effects as other positive behaviors. Our findings suggest that newcomers are unique in that they are motivated to learn about their new supervisor, and are prone to ignore those unsavory aspects and infer something positive about a supervisor targeted with ingratiation. Our findings also suggest that this effect can be weakened based on the supervisor’s response. In other words, newcomers rely less on evidence from a coworker’s ingratiation in the presence of direct behaviors from the supervisor.

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