Employees are approximately 43% less likely to retaliate after an unpleasant management decision if an adequate explanation is provided. Conversely, an inadequate explanation may be worse than no explanation at all, according to a University of Florida in Gainesville report in the Journal of Applied Psychology as reported by Reuters Health.
Yet, while the study found an adequate explanation that shows fair treatment of employees is likely to have beneficial effects, an excuse was generally preferable to a justification. Managers appeared better off denying responsibility, or claiming that there were mitigating circumstances, albeit the circumstances had to be believable.
To examine what types of explanations seem most beneficial, as well as where and when they should be given, the study analyzed past research on the effects of explanations published between 1986 and 2001, and applied a theory that describes how people form perceptions of blame. The theory argues that people assign blame by comparing “what happened” to “what might have been,” said lead author of the study John Shaw in an interview with Reuters Health.
Because a good excuse shows that no other actions were feasible, it makes it impossible to compare what a person did to what he or she “could” or “should” have done, the argument goes. Thus, placing the blame is difficult. A justification leaves the door wide open for an ethical judgment regarding what the person should have done, based on the recipient’s opinion about the worthiness of the overriding goal.
However, some situations do not lend themselves well to an excuse, the report found. These situations include decisions that directly affect hiring, firing and compensation, circumstances in which people share a common group membership with the authority in question, and situations in which an action violates some moral standard, such as a boss taking credit for a subordinate’s idea.
In these circumstances an explanations appear more effective, especially when given within the contexts of “long-term economic, relational, and moral virtue implications,” Shaw said.