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The Gendered Nature of Emotional Ambivalence Towards Coworkers and Its Relational Consequences

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Abstract

Coworkers are a source of mixed emotions yet research on emotional ambivalence—i.e., the co-existing and intertwining positive and negative feelings toward a subject—toward peers in work groups is scarce. We draw from the literature on competitive dynamics in peer relationships to explore how women and men’s emotional ambivalence is elicited by the presence of a “tall poppy,” a peer who disproportionately and visibly performs better relative to his or her peers. Informed by role congruity theory, we assert that men are socialized into peer relationships that embrace competition and camaraderie, so men tend to exhibit emotional ambivalence toward peers regardless of whether the focal coworker is a “tall poppy.” By contrast, women are socialized into a gender role that emphasizes harmony and equality so the presence of a “tall poppy” violates the female gender role, thereby eliciting more emotional ambivalence compared to when women work with equally matched peers. Experiencing emotional ambivalence then results in attempts to relationally distance oneself from the source of mixed emotions (e.g., ostracism, withdrawal). Two experimental studies—a behavioral laboratory study with students and an online experiment with working adults—both provided full support for these theorized relationships.

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Notes

  1. We also tested the moderated mediation models without including any control variable. All results and the directions of effect were consistent with the results we currently report in the paper. We report the analyses with envy as a control variable included so interested readers may be informed with the effect of envy in hypothesized relationships.

  2. We also tested the moderated mediation models without including any control variable. All results and the directions of effect were consistent with the results we currently report in the paper. We report the analyses with control variables included so interested readers may be informed with the effect of age, trait competitiveness, gender dissimilarity, tenure with coworker, and envy in hypothesized relationships.

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Chang, X., Raver, J.L. The Gendered Nature of Emotional Ambivalence Towards Coworkers and Its Relational Consequences. J Bus Psychol 35, 831–852 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-019-09667-2

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