Predicting Employee Dissent Expression in Organizations: A Cost and Benefit Approach.

Author(s), Title and Publication

Zhan, M., & Hample, D. (2016). Predicting employee dissent expression in organizations: A cost and benefit approach. Management Communication Quarterly, DOI: 10.1177/0893318916635752.


Employee dissent is understood as resulting from unsatisfying organizational states. Dissatisfaction can be felt but not expressed; dissent is the actual performance of disagreement with immediate circumstances. Constructive expression of dissent can have positive consequences. In this article, the authors theorize that individuals’ personality traits of argumentativeness (i.e., people’s tendency to argue over controversial issues, focusing on the substance of the argument) and verbal aggressiveness (i.e., people’s tendency to attack the other’s self-concept rather than the argument’s merits) influence employee dissent behavior. Further, the authors argue that individual predispositions will not influence employee dissent behavior invariably across situations. People assess costs (possible retaliation) and benefits (benefits brought by the resolved issue) when making dissent decisions.

Through a survey of 817 undergraduate students from a large public mid-Atlantic university and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) participants, this study found that the impulse to complain was not merely affected by, but was almost completely mediated by, people’s cost-benefit analyses. The results provided evidence that aggressive communication traits influence dissent behaviors through people’s evaluations of costs and benefits, and implied that dissent expression is influenced by situated factors, not influenced by personality traits invariably. The authors suggest that previous work that has found significant relationships between individual differences and dissent behaviors should probably be reinterpreted to accommodate these situated mediating factors.

Implications for Practice

Organizations should 1) encourage organizational dissent expression, as it is essential in helping identify problems in organizations and increasing employee satisfaction, 2) promote overt dissent by making employees feel their costs to express disagreement are low and the benefits are high, and 3) create an organizational culture that readily accepts employee suggestions and react to employee dissent with open minds.

Location of Article

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