It’s Not What You Say, It’s the Way That You Say It: How Relationships Affect Performance Ratings

Topic: Leader-Member Exchange; Upward Communications

Authors, Title and Publication

Geertshuis, S. A., Morrison, R. L., & Cooper-Thomas, H. D. (2015). It’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it: The mediating effect of upward influencing communications on the relationship between leader-member exchange and performance ratings. Journal of Business Communication, 52(2), 228-245.

This study seeks to understand how relationship quality may affect performance ratings depending on the frequency and nature of communications by subordinates. The literature suggests that the quality of relationships between supervisors and their subordinates is predictive of subordinate performance. A number of explanatory mechanisms have been proposed, and the frequency and nature of dyadic communication have been posited as contributory. To further explore this potential mechanism, the authors tested the hypothesis that upward influencing communications mediate the relationship between relationship quality, as measured by leader-member exchange (LMX), and supervisor ratings of subordinate performance. Upward influencing communications are proactive behaviors categorized as being either hard or soft. Hard tactics involve applying pressure such as assertiveness and upward appeal and may risk damaging relationships.  Soft tactics such as rationality (e.g., using logic, explanation, and information to persuade) and ingratiation (e.g., purposeful flattery, humility, or expressing respect and admiration) by contrast, are non-confrontational and afford the target greater license to accept or reject the influence.

Results of an online survey of 107 supervisors revealed that LMX was positively associated with reported frequencies of upward influences delivered as rational arguments and negatively associated with ingratiatory and assertive communications. LMX was also positively associated with performance ratings, but this relationship was fully mediated by the frequency of upward influencing tactics, with rational argument being positively predictive of performance ratings and assertiveness being negatively associated with ratings of performance.

Implications for Practice

Organizations should 1) help build strong relationships between supervisors and subordinates in the organization, and 2) provide training to employees regarding upward communications. Specifically, employees should be encouraged to use rationality—logic explanation, and rational arguments—when they seek to influence their supervisors. Such tactics can help build a quality relationship with the supervisor and lead to better performance evaluations.

Location of Article

The article is available online at:   (abstract free, purchase full article)


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