Incivility, leadership, conflict, culture, organizational norms, teams


Incivility is a common form of low-grade aggression that lacks a clear intent to harm, that violates community norms and values for interpersonal conduct, and is often chronic in nature (Andersson & Pearson, 1999; Cortina, Magley, Williams, & Langhout, 2001). Because of its subtleties, it is difficult at times to detect and even more difficult to prevent. However, it is an essential phenomenon to research, due to its ubiquity and negative impact on worker outcomes such as job satisfaction and psychological health (Cortina et al., 2001). Incivility instigated by those in authority may be an even bigger problem, due to victims’ fear of retaliation in the event that they choose to report the incivility (Estes & Wang, 2008). Furthermore, as the global economy shrinks and intercultural interactions become the rule rather than the exception, the norms for “good interpersonal conduct” become blurred, leading to even greater and more frequent incivility (Milam, Spitzmueller, & Penney, 2009; Pearson & Porath, 2005). Yet while it logically follows that incivility may be defined differently across different cultures, little research has been done on this topic. Furthermore, it is unclear how to “fix” the incivility problem in the workplace. Pearson and Porath (2005) suggested that organizational norms strongly endorsing civility could mitigate the occurrence of workplace incivility. The purpose of this research is to test the effects of internal cultural values and external group norms on perceptions of and reactions to leader incivility in a group setting. To test this, I manipulated leader incivility, cultural values, and group civility norms in a laboratory setting. Participants were exposed to a cultural value prime in which they were primed to endorse either high or low power distance values. Then, in a group setting, participants were presented with either a pro-civility or neutral group norm, and proceeded to engage in a group iv discussion with a confederate leader. This confederate leader was inconspicuously selected from among the participants and followed a script in which he consistently engaged in incivility towards both group members while conducting the group discussion. After completing the group discussion, the leader left for leader training and the participants engaged in an interdependent business simulation. At periodic segments throughout the experiment, I assessed participants’ affective states as well as their perceptions of interactional justice and intragroup conflict. Regression analyses generally supported hypotheses regarding the moderating effect of values on perceptions of and reactions to incivility. Power distance predicted individuals’ assessment of justice in the face of leader incivility; the interaction effect of power distance values and civility norms approached (but did not achieve) significance. Justice perceptions were strongly negatively correlated with participants’ experience of anger; anger was found to mediate the relationship between participants’ justice assessments (when the leader was present) and their perceptions of intragroup conflict (when the leader was absent). Power distance values and civility norms both moderated the relationship between anger and individual-level perception of intragroup conflict. At the group level of analysis, relationship conflict negatively predicted group performance, but task conflict positively predicted group performance, when there were pro-civility norms in place. These findings have implications for diverse organizations attempting to promote justice, harmony, and civility within their organizations. Incivility is a nuanced phenomenon and one that is perceived and responded to differently across individuals. Cultural values play a role, but so do organizational norms. Future research is needed to explore further the interactive effects of cultural values and organizational norms, and how organizations can leverage these to prevent the occurrence and negative consequences of workplace incivility.


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Graduation Date





Salas, Eduardo


Master of Science (M.S.)


College of Sciences



Degree Program

Industrial Organizational Psychology








Release Date

May 2013

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Masters Thesis (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Sciences, Sciences -- Dissertations, Academic