Organizational communication researchers have studied power, influence, and aggressive communication in superior-subordinate relationships in paid employment settings for many years. Aggressive communication in leader-follower relationships in volunteer and religiously oriented organizations, particularly churches, has received less attention. This is particularly important as the Roman Catholic Church is one of the world’s largest and oldest organizations.
To fill this gap in the literature, the authors of this study explored the perceptions of Roman Catholic priests and religious sisters in the United States with respect to the aggressive communication of their organizational superiors and its relation to their satisfaction, commitment, and motivation. In this study, aggressive communication included: 1) argumentativeness (ARG), a constructive trait that predisposes a person to advocate positions on controversial issues and to verbally attack others’ positions; and 2) verbal aggressiveness (VA), a destructive trait characterized by the predisposition to attack the self-concept of another.
Participants were 145 Roman Catholic priests and sisters from religious orders and dioceses across the United States. Participants were randomly selected, using a random number table, from the directories of U.S. Catholic dioceses and religious orders. Data were collected online using Qualtrics software and through a mail survey. More than half of the sample were comprised of sisters (51.7%), followed by diocesan priests (35.2%) and religious order priests (13.1%). Approximately half of the participants were 65 years of age or older (52.4%), and the overwhelming majority of participants reported their ethnicity as Caucasian (95.2%).
1.) Priests and sisters who perceived their superiors to be more verbally aggressive experienced lower levels of job motivation, affective commitment (emotional attachment to the organization), normative commitment (obligation to stay in the organization), and also perceived their superiors to be less credible. However, they also experienced stronger continuance commitment—they believed the cost of leaving their current organization was too high. This is likely attributed to the lifetime commitment of ecclesiastical occupations. Findings indicate that dissatisfied individuals may remain in hostile relationships if they perceive alternative relationships to be of low quality and believe their investments in the current relationship are too high to justify leaving.
2.) Consistent with prior research with paid employees, verbal aggressiveness was a stronger predictor of job-related outcomes compared to argumentativeness. Argumentativeness influenced perceptions of superiors’ competence, but had only minimal influence on satisfaction, commitment, and motivation.
3.) Superior argumentativeness and verbal aggressiveness function differently across the ecclesiastical occupations studied, with diocesan priests appearing to be most influenced by their superiors’ verbal aggressiveness and argumentativeness and sisters seemingly the least influenced. Priests with superiors higher in verbal aggressiveness experienced less affective commitment and vocational satisfaction from spiritual activities than did priests with superiors lower in verbal aggressiveness. This pattern of results suggests that the aggressive communication traits of one’s organizational superior are more important in the lives of priests, especially diocesan priests, than in the lives of sisters. In part, these results may be explained by the greater stress diocesan priests experience relative to other ecclesiastical occupations. Whereas diocesan priests tend to live alone, religious order priests and sisters tend to live in communities with others of their order.
Implications for practice
Religious organizations should 1) be aware that aggressive communication from superiors may lead priests and sisters to become dissatisfied, less committed, and more likely to exit ecclesiastical occupations; 2) provide personalized training in superior-subordinate communication to individuals in ecclesiastical occupations; and 3) add assessments of verbal aggressiveness and argumentativeness as part of ecclesiastical occupations’ performance evaluation.
Chory, R. C., Horan, S. M., Raposo, J. C. (2020). Superior-subordinate aggressive communication among catholic priests and sisters in the United States. Management Communication Quarterly, 34(1), 3-31.
Location of Article
This article is available online at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0893318919879935 (abstract free, purchase full article)