Topic: Upward Communication and Upward Influence

Author(s), Title and Publication
Shi, X., & Wilson. S. R. (2010). Upward influence in contemporary Chinese organizations: Explicating the effects of influence goal type and multiple goal importance on message reasoning and politeness. Management Communication Quarterly, 24(4), 579-606.

This study explored how Chinese employees engage in upward influence with their supervisors to benefit self (personal goals) or the organization (organizational goals). In a large city of Northeast China, 201 Chinese employees completed a survey. Participants were asked to recall a situation where they tried to influence their supervisors to help them in a way that would benefit them (personal goals) or the organization (organization goals). Then they answered questions about their communication goals (clarity, effectiveness, autonomy maintenance, and relationship maintenance), message features (reasoning and politeness), and perceived benefits. Relationship maintenance goals included avoiding negative evaluation and hurt feelings, and not imposing on others.

Results showed that the employees rate relationship maintenance, clarity, and effectiveness as more important when they pursue personal goals, and clarity as more important than other goals when they pursue organizational goals. Autonomy maintenance was considered to be the least important in both conditions. Results indicated that Chinese employees pursuing personal goals used both self-focused reasons and work-focused reasons to persuade supervisors; they tried to convince the supervisor that their personal request will not disturb work but rather may even benefit the organization later. Employees pursuing organizational goals used more work-focused reasons. Communication goals were found to predict messages presented. Employees aiming at relationship maintenance are more polite in messages than those with other goals, whereas, those focusing on clarity are more likely to reason with their supervisors. Results also revealed that elder employees are more likely to reason with supervisors than younger employees, as are male employees versus than female employees.

Implications for Practice
The findings of this study may help global organizations understand employees’ upward communication behaviors in a Chinese cultural context. Doing so may improve communication, facilitate understanding, and build productive supervisor-employee relationships.

Location of Article
The article is available online at:;24/4/579 (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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