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Strategic Incivility: Trash-Talking About Competitors Promotes Intra-Organizational Cooperation
Trash-talking, defined as competition-related expressions of incivility, has been shown to motivate its targets to outperform their trash-talking competitors. Challenging the view that trash-talking is unequivocally counterproductive, we demonstrate that trash-talking between groups can serve important functions within groups. Three studies examined the effects of leaders who publicly trash-talk competitors. We find that, compared to leaders who engage in neutral communication, leaders who trash-talk competitors promote greater group commitment—attitudinally and behaviorally—within their team. We also find that targets of trash-talking, compared to targets of neutral messages, are more likely to allocate resources to harm their trash-talking competitors. Finally, we demonstrate that leaders anticipate the beneficial within-group effects of trash-talking competitors. Taken together, our findings identify a significant benefit of trash-talking, and highlight an important asymmetry between how in-group members react to observing a leader who trash-talks and how out-group members react to being targets of a trash-talking leader.