Engaging the Hearts and Minds of Followers: Leader Empathy and Language Style Matching During Appraisal Interviews
- 276 Downloads
Leader empathy has received increased scholarly and practical attention in recent years. However, empirical studies that explore the functionality of leader empathy and that disclose which objective micro-level behaviors actually characterize empathic face-to-face interactions remain sparse. This study explores the role of leaders’ empathic communication style in a sample of 48 audiotaped performance appraisal interviews. Our multimethod approach disclosed that ratings of supervisors’ empathic communication style were positively related to employees’ intentions to change and to employees’ perceptions of supervisor likeability. Fine-grained linguistic analyses (N = 358,586 words) further provided insights into the underlying behavioral manifestation of leader empathy: verbal mimicry in the form of language style matching between supervisors and employees was positively related to supervisors’ empathic communication style. Additional analyses showed that supervisors who communicated more empathically used less second-person pronouns (“you”) and agreed more frequently with their employees. Finally, we found differences in the mean percentage use of personal pronouns between supervisors and employees. Specifically, supervisors used significantly more second-person (“you”) and first-person plural (“we”) pronouns and fewer first-person singular (“I”) pronouns than their employees. We discuss how the findings of this field study enhance our theoretical understanding of leader empathy as a functional leadership skill, and we highlight practical recommendations for conducting more effective appraisal interviews.
KeywordsAppraisal interviews Leadership Leader-follower interactions Leader empathy Linguistic analyses Language style matching
- Bass, B. M., & Riggio, R. E. (2006). Transformational leadership. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
- Bohart, A. C., Elliott, R., Greenberg, L. S., & Watson, J. C. (2002). Empathy. In J. C. Norcross (Ed.), Psychotherapy relationships that work: Therapist contributions and responsiveness to patients (pp. 89–108). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Burch, G. F., Bennett, A. A., Humphrey, R. H., Batchelor, J. H., & Cairo, A. H. (2016). Unraveling the complexities of empathy research: A multi-level model of empathy in organizations. In N. M. Ashkanasy, C. E. J. Härtel, & W. J. Zerbe (Eds.), Emotions and organizational governance, Research on emotion in organizations (Vol. 12, pp. 169–189). Bingley, UK: Emerald Publishing Limited.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Businessolver (2017). 2017 workplace empathy monitor. Retrieved from https://www.businessolver.com/empathy.
- Chartrand, T. L., & Lakin, J. L. (2012). The antecedents and consequences of human behavioral mimicry. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 285–308. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-113011-143754.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Chung, C., & Pennebaker, J. (2007). The psychological functions of function words. In K. Fiedler (Ed.), Social communication (pp. 343–359). New York, NY: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
- Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
- De Vries, R. E., Bakker-Pieper, A., & Oostenveld, W. (2010). Leadership = communication? The relations of leaders' communication styles with leadership styles, knowledge sharing and leadership outcomes. Journal of Business and Psychology, 25, 367–380. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-009-9140-2.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Eisenberg, N. (2000). Empathy and sympathy. In M. Lewis & J. M. Haviland-Jones (Eds.), Handbook of emotions (pp. 677–691). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
- Eisenberg, N., & Miller, P. A. (1987). The relation of empathy to prosocial and related behaviors. Psychological Bulletin, 101, 91–119. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.101.1.91.
- Feshbach, N. D., & Roe, K. (1968). Empathy in six- and seven-year-olds. Child Development, 39, 133–145. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.1968.tb04412.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Fleishman, E. A., & Salter, J. A. (1963). Relation between the leader’s behavior and his empathy toward subordinates. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 1, 79–84.Google Scholar
- Greenson, R. R. (1960). Empathy and its vicissitudes. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 41, 418–424.Google Scholar
- Hatfield, E., Cacioppo, J. T., & Rapson, R. L. (1994). Emotional contagion. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Hayes, A. F. (2013). Introduction to mediation, moderation, and conditional process analysis. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
- Kenny, D. A. (2017). MedPower: An interactive tool for the estimation of power in tests of mediation [Computer Software]. Available from https://davidakenny.shinyapps.io/PowerMed/.
- Kenny, G. (2016). Fixing performance appraisal is about more than ditching annual reviews. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/02/fixing-performance-appraisal-is-about-more-than-ditching-annual-reviews?referral=03759&cm_vc=rr_item_page.bottom
- Kline, R. B. (2005). Principles and practice of structural equation modeling. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
- Manson, J. H., Bryant, G. A., Gervais, M. M., & Kline, M. A. (2013). Convergence of speech rate in conversation predicts cooperation. Evolution and Human Behavior, 34, 419–426. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2013.08.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Mehrabian, A., & Epstein, N. (1972). A measure of emotional empathy. Journal of Personality, 40, 525–543. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6494.1972.tb00078.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Meyer, B., Burtscher, M. J., Jonas, K., Feese, S., Arnrich, B., Tröster, G., & Schermuly, C. C. (2016). What good leaders actually do: Micro-level leadership behaviour, leader evaluations, and team decision quality. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 25, 773–789. https://doi.org/10.1080/1359432X.2016.1189903.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (2013). Motivational interviewing: Helping people change (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
- Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (2012). Mplus user’s guide (7th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Muthén & Muthén.Google Scholar
- Neumann, D. L., Chan, R. C. K., Boyle, G. J., Wang, Y., & Westbury, H. R. (2015). Measures of empathy: Self-report, behavioral, and neuroscientific approaches. In G. J. Boyle, D. H. Saklofske, & G. Matthews (Eds.), Measures of personality and social psychological constructs (pp. 257–289). London, UK: Academic Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Nicolai, J., Demmel, R., & Hagen, J. (2007). Rating scales for the assessment of empathic communication in medical interviews (REM): Scale development, reliability, and validity. Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings, 14, 367–375. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10880-007-9081-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Pelz, J., & Scholl, W. (1990). Entwicklung eines Verfahrens zur Messung von Sympathie, Einwirkung, Macht-Einfluß-Differenzierung und Interesse (SEMI) [Development of a procedure for the measurement of sympathy, social influence, power-influence differentiation, and interest (SEMI method)]. Universität Göttingen: Institut für Wirtschafts- und Sozialpsychologie, IWSP-Bericht 17.Google Scholar
- Pennebaker, J. W., Boyd, R. L., Jordan, K., & Blackburn, K. (2015). The development and psychometric properties of LIWC2015. Austin, TX: University of Texas at Austin.Google Scholar
- Pennebaker, J. W., Francis, M. E., & Booth, R. J. (2001). Linguistic inquiry and word count—LIWC2001. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
- Pennebaker, J. W., Mehl, M. R., & Niederhoffer, K. G. (2003). Psychological aspects of natural language. Use: Our words, our selves. Annual Review of Psychology, 54, 547–577. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.54.101601.145041.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Rock, D., Davis, J., & Jones, B. (2014). Kill your performance ratings. Strategy + Business. Retrieved from https://www.strategy-business.com/article/00275?gko=c442b.
- Sytch, M., & DeRue, D. S. (2010). Ditch performance reviews? How about learn to do them well? Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2010/06/ditch-performance-reviews-how
- Tausczik, Y. R. (2012). Changing group dynamics through computerized language feedback (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX.Google Scholar
- Wolf, M., Horn, A. B., Mehl, M. R., Haug, S., Pennebaker, J. W., & Kordy, H. (2008). Computergestützte quantitative Textanalyse: Äquivalenz und Robustheit der deutschen version des linguistic inquiry and word count [computer-aided quantitative textanalysis: Equivalence and reliability of the German adaptation of the linguistic inquiry and word count]. Diagnostica, 54, 85–98. https://doi.org/10.1026/0012-19188.8.131.52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Yoder, P., & Symons, F. (2010). Observational measurement of behavior. New York, NY: Springer.Google Scholar
- Yukl, G. (2010). Leadership in organizations (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.Google Scholar