Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 136, Issue 1, pp 43–55 | Cite as

Delivering Bad News: How Procedural Unfairness Affects Messengers’ Distancing and Refusals

  • James J. LavelleEmail author
  • Robert Folger
  • Jennifer G. Manegold


Drawing from a social predicament and identity management framework, we argue that procedural unfairness on the part of decision makers places messengers in a dilemma where they attempt to protect their professional image or legitimacy by engaging in refusals (e.g., curbing explanations) and exhibiting distancing behaviors (e.g., minimizing contact with victims) when delivering bad news. Such behaviors however, violate key tenets of fair interpersonal treatment. The results of two experiments supported our hypotheses in samples of experienced managers. Specifically, we found that levels of messengers’ distancing and refusals were greater when the procedures used by decision makers were unfair rather than fair. Additionally, messengers’ perceptions of a predicament (honesty versus disclosure) mediated these relationships. Implications and future research directions regarding the ethical delivery of bad news in the workplace are discussed.


Delivering bad news Distancing behavior Refusals Honesty predicament Organizational justice 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • James J. Lavelle
    • 1
    Email author
  • Robert Folger
    • 2
  • Jennifer G. Manegold
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ManagementUniversity of Texas, ArlingtonArlingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of ManagementUniversity of Central FloridaOrlandoUSA

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