Appeasing Equals: Lateral Deference in Organizational Communication
Author(s): Alison R. Fragale, John J. Sumanth, Larissa Z. Tiedens, Gregory B. Northcraft
Abstract: Using archival data on a year of e-mail exchanges at a division of Enron (Study 1) and a field study of management professionals (Study 2), we explore how the relative hierarchical rank of a message sender and a message recipient affects expressions of verbal deference in organizational e-mail communication. Verbal deference refers to linguistic markers that convey a willingness to yield to another’s preferences or opinions as a sign of respect or reverence. Although prior research has focused on upward deference in an organizational hierarchy, from lower-ranked senders to higher-ranked recipients, we predict and find that the greatest amount of deference is expressed laterally, between peers of equal or similar rank. Further, lateral deference is most frequently displayed by those individuals most concerned with preserving their status and rank, confirming that lateral deference may be used as a status-saving strategy designed to protect individuals from status loss associated with “overstepping one’s place.”
Publication Title: Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 57(3)
Pub Year: 2012
Pages: 373 – 406
Keywords: status, hierarchy, deference, communication

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