Full Program »
Supervisor power, psychological safety, and approaching difficult conversations
Supervisors are expected to approach difficult issues at work, although they may not feel psychologically safe to do so. We use the theory of power, approach, and inhibition (Keltner, Gruenfeld, & Anderson, 2003) to explore the threatening underpinnings low power supervisors may experience when encountering difficult issues at work. Results from a field study with matching supervisor and employee data show that supervisors who report decreased power also report decreased psychological safety, and they are more likely to avoid difficult conversations with their employees at work (Study 1). A preregistered experimental follow-up study manipulating supervisor power also supported these results showing that supervisors in the low (v. high) power condition reported having less psychological safety, and subsequently, less willingness to address difficult issues among subordinates in work groups. These results shed new light on supervisor conflict, while illustrating a key antecedent and consequence of psychological safety.