Them’s Fightin’ Words: The Effects of Violent Rhetoric on Ethical Decision Making in Business

33 Pages Posted: 18 Jun 2012 Last revised: 2 Jun 2014

See all articles by Joshua R. Gubler

Joshua R. Gubler

Brigham Young University - Department of Political Science

Nathan P. Kalmoe

George Washington University - School of Media & Public Affairs

David A. Wood

Brigham Young University - School of Accountancy

Date Written: January 2014

Abstract

Business managers regularly employ metaphorical violent rhetoric as a means of motivating their employees to action. While it might be effective to this end, research on violent media suggests that violent rhetoric might have other, less desirable consequences. This study examines how the use of metaphorical violent rhetoric by business managers impacts the ethical decision making of employees. We develop and test a model that explains how the use of violent rhetoric impacts employees’ willingness to break ethical standards, depending on the source of the rhetoric. The results of two experiments suggest that the use of violent rhetoric by a CEO at a competing company increases employees’ willingness to engage in ethical violations while the use of violent rhetoric by employees’ own CEO decreases their willingness to engage in unethical behavior. Furthermore, we find that participants who made less ethical decisions motivated by violent rhetoric used by a competitor’s CEO did not view their decisions as less ethical than the other participants in the experiments. The results of these studies highlight potentially harmful unintended consequences of the use of violent rhetoric, providing knowledge that should be useful to managers and academics who want to increase employee motivation without increasing a willingness to engage in unethical behavior.

Keywords: Ethics, Decision Making, Violent Rhetoric, Leadership

JEL Classification: M1, M14, M54

Suggested Citation

Gubler, Joshua R. and Kalmoe, Nathan P. and Wood, David A., Them’s Fightin’ Words: The Effects of Violent Rhetoric on Ethical Decision Making in Business (January 2014). Journal of Business Ethics, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2086736 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2086736

Joshua R. Gubler

Brigham Young University - Department of Political Science ( email )

764 Kimball Tower
Provo, UT 84602
United States
801-422-2829 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://scholar.byu.edu/jgubler

Nathan P. Kalmoe

George Washington University - School of Media & Public Affairs ( email )

Washington, DC 20052
United States

David A. Wood (Contact Author)

Brigham Young University - School of Accountancy ( email )

518 TNRB
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT 84602
United States
801-422-8642 (Phone)
801-422-0621 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://marriottschool.byu.edu/employee/employee.cfm?emp=daw44

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