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Businessmen fighting verbally

Bosses’ language might be encouraging unethical behaviour



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Motivating your employees is key, but you might be doing more harm than good if you like using violent and aggressive words to spur them on.

According to a new study by Brigham Young University, business bosses who try to motivate their employees with violent rhetoric end up motivating rival employees to play dirty.

In two experiments conducted with 269 participants, researchers David Wood and Josh Gubler found a clear relation between violent rhetoric and ethical decision making—for better or for worse.

In the first experiment they showed half the subjects this motivational message from a CEO:

“To this end, I am declaring war on the competition in an effort to increase our market share. I want you to fight for every customer and do whatever it takes to win this battle. To motivate you to fight for this cause, I will be rewarding the top ten sales associates, and a guest, an all-expense paid vacation to Hawaii.”

The other half of the subjects got the same message but with the words “war,” “fight” and “battle” replaced by “all-out effort,” “compete” and “competition,” respectively. Researchers then assessed the subjects’ likelihood to engage in unethical behavior—in this case, posting fake negative reviews for the competition’s product.

They found that when the source of violent rhetoric was the rival CEO, employees were significantly more likely to post fake negative reviews and ratings about the competition.

“What’s disconcerting is that people don’t think they’re being unethical in these situations,” Wood said.

“You can’t just say, ‘OK people, you need to be better now, don’t be bad,’ because they don’t think they’re being bad.”

Interestingly, the study also found that when an employee’s own CEO used violent rhetoric, those employees were less likely to make unethical decisions.

“Our environment impacts our choices at much more subtle levels than we realise,” Wood added.

Also Read: Want to be a good reader? Try humility.

Image: Shutterstock

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