Topic: Personal Reputation, Work Competence and Upward Communication

Author(s), Title and Publication

Foste, E. A., & Botero, I. C. (2012). Personal Reputation: Effects of Upward Communication on Impressions About New Employees. Management Communication Quarterly, 26(1), 48-73.


This study focused on how a new employee’s message content and delivery style in upward communication affected the supervisor’s perceptions of the employee’s work competence and personal reputation. The research was framed by language expectancy theory (LET), which argues that receivers (e.g., supervisors) have expectations about the verbal and nonverbal behavior that a communicator (e.g., subordinates) should exhibit in an interaction. The extent to which an employee’s communication behavior matches the supervisor’s expectations affects the supervisor’s perceptions about that employee.

The study used principles of LET and an experimental design to explore the impact of an employee’s message content (benefit organization vs. not benefit organization) and delivery style (aggressive vs. nonaggressive) on the supervisor’s assessment of the employee. A total of 245 participants, acting in the role of a manager, read one of four scenarios and evaluated a new employee’s request for a computer program. The experiment measured perceptions of personal reputation, work competence, perceptions of delivery style and message content, and intention to grant the request.

Results suggested that a new employee’s message content and delivery style significantly affected a supervisor’s initial perceptions of the employee’s reputation and the supervisor’s willingness to grant a request. However, the supervisor’s assessment of the employee’s work competence was primarily affected by the employee’s message content. This study also suggested that an employee would be perceived as highly competent if he or she expressed their request(s) appropriately and mentioned corresponding benefits to the organization.

Implications for Practice

On boarding programs can help new employees understand that their communications with supervisors should not come across as being aggressive or promoting self-interests. Employees interested in gaining a positive reputation should pay equal attention to their message content and delivery style. This means presenting information professionally and indicating the benefit to the organization in the messages.

Location of Article

The article is available online at: (free abstract, 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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