Topic: Supervisory Communication

Author(s), Title and Publication
Sager, K. L. (2008). An exploratory study of the relationships between theory X/Y assumptions and superior communicator style. Management Communication Quarterly, 22(2), 288-312.

This study explored whether supervisors’ attitudes and leadership behaviors toward their subordinates (theory X/Y) influence the way they communicate with them (communicator style model). McGregor’s (1960) Theory X/Y posits that theory X-oriented supervisors assume that subordinates must be forced to work, seek direction from others, and avoid taking responsibility for their work. Theory Y-oriented supervisors, on the other hand, assume that subordinates have a natural desire to work, exhibit self-direction, take responsibility for their work, and possess creative solutions to organizational problems.

Theory X-oriented supervisors use strategies such as deceit, aversive stimulation, and threat more often, while theory Y-oriented supervisors use strategies ingratiation and esteem more often. Superior communicator style suggests that communicator image is influenced by 10 communication styles: impression leaving (intending to stand out from others), contentious (intending to change others’ positions), attentive (listening conscientiously to others), animated (using gestures), friendly, precise, dramatic, relaxed, open, and dominant.

A total of 279 supervisors from a large state university completed an online survey that measured theory X/Y orientation and communication styles, including dominant (controlling over subordinates), supportive (being friendly and encouraging), anxious (lack of precision), impression leaving, closed (being reluctant to disclose personal information or reveal personal feelings), and nonverbally expressive.

Results indicated that theory X-oriented supervisors are more likely to use dominant and impression leaving styles. Theory Y-oriented supervisors are more likely to use supportive, impression leaving, and nonverbally expressive styles—and less likely to use anxious style. No significant relationship was found between leadership style and closed communication style.

Implications for Practice
Organizations may assess supervisor candidates’ personality based on theory X/Y to predict how they would communicate with their subordinates. Then they might apply communication training as needed to strengthen supervisors’ communication and listening skills to help enhance overall communication climate in the organization.

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

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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One thought on “An Exploratory Study of the Relationships Between Theory X/Y Assumptions and Superior Communicator Style

  1. Leadership is implemented through communication. In other words, leaders’ communication behavior actually can be seen as part of his or her leadership style. Therefore, it’s expected that leaders of different management styles will communicate in different ways. This study offered some interesting insights on how exactly various communication styles are associated with different leadership styles. I think similar idea can be applied to examining how transformational, transactional, authentic, ethical, service leaders communicate. It would be interesting to compare the results with this study.

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