Home » News » Combat Metaphors in Business Often Backfire
Combat Metaphors in Business Often Backfire

Combat Metaphors in Business Often Backfire

A new study discovers bosses who try to motivate their employees with violent rhetoric — think of Steve Jobs declaring “thermonuclear war” on Samsung — may begin a ‘battle’ they often lose.

“Business executives use violent language all the time,” said David Wood, a Brigham Young University (BYU) business professor. “They say, ‘We’re going to kill the competition,’ or ‘We’re going to war.’

“This study shows they should think twice about what they’re saying.”

Surprisingly, the study found that when an employee’s own CEO uses violent rhetoric, those employees are less likely to make unethical decisions.

Either way, the research shows clear evidence that violent rhetoric influences ethical decision making — for better or for worse.

Wood, BYU colleague Josh Gubler and coauthor Nathan Kalmoe carried out two experiments with 269 participants for the study. In the first experiment they showed half the subjects this motivational message from a CEO:

“To this end, I am declaring war on the competition in an effort to increase our market share. I want you to fight for every customer and do whatever it takes to win this battle. To motivate you to fight for this cause, I will be rewarding the top ten sales associates, and a guest, an all-expense paid vacation to Hawaii.”

The other half of the subjects got the same message but with the words “war,” “fight,” and “battle” replaced by “all-out effort,” “compete,” and “competition,” respectively.

Researchers then assessed the subjects’ likelihood to engage in unethical behavior — in this case, posting fake negative reviews for the competition’s product.

They found that when the source of violent rhetoric was the rival CEO, employees were significantly more likely to post fake negative reviews and ratings about the competition.

“What’s disconcerting is that people don’t think they’re being unethical in these situations,” Wood said.

“You can’t just say, ‘OK people, you need to be better now, don’t be bad,’ because they don’t think they’re being bad.”

In the second part of the study, researchers tested whether participants would bend internal sales policies (no selling to people with credit scores below 600) to boost sales figures after receiving an email from their manager.

Again half of the subjects received a message with violent rhetoric.

The results once again showed that the use of violent rhetoric by leadership impacted the ethical decision making of the employees.

“There has been a lot of research on the effects of violence and violent media on aggressive behavior,” Gubler said.

“This research shows it goes further: It affects your willingness to lie and to cheat and to bend moral rules. There are serious implications for CEOs.”

Wood adds, “Our environment impacts our choices at much more subtle levels than we realize.”

Source: Brigham Young University

 
Aggressive businessmen photo by shutterstock.

Combat Metaphors in Business Often Backfire

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Combat Metaphors in Business Often Backfire. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 24, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2014/07/23/combat-metaphors-in-business-often-backfire/72810.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.