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2019 International Association for Conflict Management Conference

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The Effect of Hierarchical Rank on Norm Perception Accuracy

Possessing an accurate perception of descriptive norms can reduce team conflict and improve team performance. However, little work examines what factors affect individuals’ accuracy in understanding relevant norms. The present research examines whether a factor generalizable across organizational contexts--hierarchical rank--affects norm perception accuracy. Two field surveys reveal that high ranking individuals (e.g., team supervisors) perceive descriptive social norms less accurately than their lower ranking team members. Further, we find no evidence that behavior differs by rank, suggesting that the inaccuracy does not stem from higher ranking individuals' failure to discount their own idiosyncratic behavior. Instead, a more plausible explanation might be that lower ranking individuals strategically misrepresent their behavior in the presence of their higher-ups, thereby skewing high ranking individuals’ perceptions of reality. Collectively, this research implies that when team conflict results from disagreement over descriptive norms, higher ranking individuals might deserve more of the blame.

Emily Reit
Stanford University Graduate School of Business
United States

Jennifer Dannals
Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College
United States

 


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