Topic: Supervisory Communication

Author(s), Title and Publication
Fransen, M. L., & ter Hoeven, C. L. (2011). Matching the message: The role of regulatory fit in negative managerial communication. Communication Research.

This study examined whether managers could communicate bad news effectively by fitting the message into employees’ regulatory focus (promotion orientation, and prevention orientation). According to regulatory focus theory, people differ in the extent to which they are sensitive to positive and negative information. People with a promotion orientation are sensitive to the attainment of positive outcomes (e.g., information related to success achievement), while people with a prevention orientation focus more on the avoidance of negative outcomes (e.g., information related to avoidance of failure). Moreover, the theory argues that the fit between the message frame and a recipient’s regulatory focus (i.e., regulatory fit) positively affects the recipient’s attitude and behavior since the recipient (employee) feels right about the messenger’s (manager) decisions or behavior. This study investigated the effects of regulatory fit on the psychological empowerment and perceived fairness of the employees whose requests were refused by their manager.

Two experiments were conducted. In the first experiment, 71 employees answered questions regarding their psychological empowerment (confidence, competence and work commitment) after learning their request for vacation was denied by their manager. Results indicated that employees felt more empowered when the frame of written refusal (or the regulatory focus shown by the manager) matched their current regulatory focus. In the second experiment, 139 students answered questions about their perceived fairness when their requests for promotion were denied or approved by their manager. Results suggested that employees perceived a manager’s refusal as more fair when it was framed in terms that matched their regulatory focus. However, the effect was not significant when the request was approved.

Implications for Practice
To prevent or reduce employees’ negative responses to bad news, managers may design their messages to make them better fit the employees’ regulatory focus, or to offer messages that fit both orientations—similar content, different tone or structure. Interpersonal communication also may be more effective than print communications.

Location of Article
The article is available online at: (abstract free, purchase full article)

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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