Understanding Incivility Through Interactional Dynamics: Rebooting Andersson and Pearson’s Tit-for-Tat Model

Garant, Jessica
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University of Guelph

Workplaces are social environments where individuals interact as part of their daily tasks by following social norms to ensure positive and constructive relationships. However, we might not always have the same expectations based on our personal values which can create situations where we perceive that others are lacking respect despite not having bad intentions. Andersson and Pearson (1999) defined workplace incivility (WPI) as a “low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target, in violation of workplace norms for mutual respect.” (p. 456). Despite being defined as an interactive process where individuals react to each other’s perceived uncivil behaviours, most of the literature that followed focused on understanding the phenomenon as linear by categorizing individuals as enactors or targets. Consequently, categorizing individuals does not consider that our personal norms can differ which can generate misunderstandings where individuals don’t intend to lack respect. This dissertation critically reviewed both the tit-for-tat incivility model proposed by Andersson and Pearson as well as the literature that followed to reintroduce the idea that social interactions are dynamic and can lead to misunderstandings based on our different expectations. In Chapter 1, I briefly reviewed the WPI literature to shed light on the current issues in the literature regarding the lack of consideration for the dynamic aspects of social interactions. Then, in Chapter 2, I reflected on my personal biases as part of a reflexivity statement to situate myself as a researcher considering my personal experiences and contextual factors. In Chapter 3, I explored the approaches used in critical reviews to establish a clear approach to evaluate the theory and literature. Based on the established approach from Chapter 3, I criticized Andersson and Pearson’s (1999) in Chapter 4 and critically reviewed the literature that followed in Chapter 5. These two chapters highlighted the lack of understanding of the WPI spiral which justified the need for a qualitative investigation of the spiral. Finally, using a descriptive phenomenological approach, I interviewed nine mediators who helped individuals solve disrespectful interactions to better understand the dynamic aspects of these situations and the evolution of their relationship as part of Chapter 6.

Workplace Incivility, Perspective Taking, Theory Building, Trust, Mediation, Vulnerability, Employee Interaction, Rudeness, Descriptive Phenomenology