Abusive Supervision and Retaliation: A Self-Control Framework

    Published Online:https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2011.0977

    There are conflicting perspectives on whether subordinates will or will not aggress against an abusive supervisor. To address this paradox we develop a self-control model of retaliatory behavior, wherein subordinates' self-control capacity and motivation to self-control influence emotional and retaliatory reactions to provocations by enabling individuals to override their hostile impulses. In Study 1, we demonstrate that self-control capacity, motivation to self-control (supervisor coercive power), and abusive supervision interact in such a way that the strongest association between abusive supervision and supervisor-directed aggression occurs when subordinates are low in self-control capacity and perceive their supervisor to be low in coercive power. In Study 2, we extend this finding, testing a moderated mediation model, wherein hostility toward a supervisor represents the hostile impulse resulting in retaliatory behavior, mediating the relation between abusive supervision and supervisor-directed aggression. Results from Study 2 indicate that self-control capacity allows individuals to regulate the hostile feelings experienced following abusive supervision, while self-control capacity and supervisor coercive power jointly moderate the tendency to act on one's hostile feelings toward an abusive supervisor. We discuss implications for retaliatory behaviors at work.


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