The "rules of engagement": Social conventions surrounding the communication of criticism

Carla Jeffries (2011). The "rules of engagement": Social conventions surrounding the communication of criticism PhD Thesis, School of Psychology, The University of Queensland.

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Author Carla Jeffries
Thesis Title The "rules of engagement": Social conventions surrounding the communication of criticism
School, Centre or Institute School of Psychology
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2011-11
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Professor Matthew Hornsey
Dr Courtney von Hippel
Total pages 146
Total colour pages 1
Total black and white pages 145
Language eng
Subjects 170113 Social and Community Psychology
Abstract/Summary Criticism is important because it carries the potential for growth and positive change. Criticism holds the potential to identify weaknesses and suboptimal behaviours and, if acknowledged and integrated, can lead to the positive transformation of an individual or a group. Despite the therapeutic benefits of criticism, communicating critical feedback is a difficult behaviour. Criticism is frequently experienced as threatening and, when delivered or “taken” badly, can lead to a cascade of negative consequences (damaged self-esteem, hurt, conflict, withdrawal). Because it carries so much potential for hurt, the delivery of negative feedback is bounded by complex codes of etiquette. The present thesis aims to provide the first comprehensive map of these “rules of engagement” and to explore their psychological underpinnings and consequences. Chapter 2 describes the extant literature pertaining to the communication of interpersonal criticism. It then presents a survey study (N = 849) examining the extent to which people view the communication of criticism as more or less appropriate across various targets and in various contexts. We found evidence that respondents calibrate their feedback as a function of (a) the psychological resilience of the target, (b) whether the target is mutable, (c) whether the target deserves punishment, and (d) whether the target lies outside or within the boundary of one’s extended self. The effects are robust across age and gender. Cross-cultural differences in the endorsement of some rules were identified. Chapter 3 presents a study (N = 263) that disentangles the extent to which the withholding of negative feedback is motivated by a desire to protect the self as opposed to a desire to protect the target from the damaging social consequences of criticism. We found that participants provided more negative essay feedback if they thought that their assessments were anonymous than if they anticipated providing feedback face-to-face with the essay writer. Feedback was most negative when the feedback was not to be delivered to the essay writer at all. This effect only emerged among participants who were low in self-liking (but was unrelated to perceptions of self-competency). Manipulations of the self-esteem of the essay writer had no effect at all on evaluations. The data lend strong support for a self-protection motive and more modest support for an other-protection motive for withholding negative feedback. Chapter 4 presents two studies investigating the normative protection of low status groups from criticism. Study 1 (N = 816) identified the “David and Goliath” rule – the tendency for people to perceive members of “David” groups (groups with low power or status) as more “off-limits” to criticism than “Goliath” groups (groups with high power or status). We identified the existence of the David and Goliath rule across five national samples (Study 1). However the rule was endorsed more strongly in Western than in Chinese cultures, an effect mediated by cultural differences in power distance. Study 2 (N = 302) identified the psychological underpinnings of this rule in an Australian sample. Lower social dominance orientation (SDO; Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994) was associated with greater endorsement of the rule, an effect mediated through the differential attribution of stereotypes. Specifically, those low in SDO were more likely to attribute traits of warmth and incompetence to David versus Goliath groups, a pattern of stereotypes that was related to the protection of David groups from criticism. In Chapter 5, three studies investigated whether men and women are viewed as more or less appropriate to criticize. In Studies 1 (N = 502) and 2 (N = 129) we identified the tendency for people in both community and student samples to view women as more “off-limits” to criticism than men; coined the gender rule. This effect was moderated by participant gender with male participants endorsing the gender rule to a greater extent than female participants. Study 3 (N = 163) demonstrated that the gender rule is not a broad brush tendency with all women receiving protection from criticism. Consistent with work on stereotype content, both male and female targets occupying communal roles (high warmth-low competence) received less negative feedback than male and female targets in agentic roles (low warmth-high competence). These differences in performance evaluations could not be explained by differences in performance expectations or endorsement of benevolent or hostile sexism. In sum, this thesis demonstrates that there are rules that govern the delivery of criticism. We argue that the ironic consequence of “protecting” certain individuals and groups against criticism is that these people and groups are not given the same opportunities to learn and grow from their mistakes. The potential for miscommunication – and the perverse implications of withholding criticism – are discussed in Chapter 6.
Keyword Criticism
social rules
Interpersonal relations
Group relations
Additional Notes Colour 23 Landscape 93, 94

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Created: Fri, 27 Apr 2012, 07:29:28 EST by Carla Jeffries on behalf of Library - Information Access Service