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Human Relations [0018-7267(200109)54:9] Volume 54(9): 11891221: 018915 Copyright 2001 The Tavistock Institute SAGE Publications London,

n, Thousand Oaks CA, New Delhi

The metamorphosis of workplace conict


Bruce Fortado

A B S T R AC T

The indirect and informal ways subordinates use to get even are explored based on a literature review and eldwork. The multiple causal factors at work and the interactive nature of these scenarios make chaos theory applicable. The metaphor of metamorphosis is used to describe how unresolved conicts twist and change form over time. Five case examples from the USA are included as illustrations. The transformations conicts undergo are categorized into four forms: namely, the restatement of an issue, pressure tactics, acts of retribution and compensatory acts. The tactics and meanings that are commonly associated with each category are described. Previously, conicts have been framed narrowly in short-term, individualistic, rational and substantive terms. Much can be learned by viewing these situations in long-term, social, interactive, emotional and symbolic terms. Elements of subordinate subcultures often come into conict with the dominant organization culture. These clashes produce unique and unpredictable relational shifts. One must strive to accurately interpret these chaotic transformations in the parties day-to-day interactions to determine if and when course corrections are necessary.

KEYWORDS

chaos theory emotions relationships subculture workplace conict

Introduction
A bifurcation exists in many organizations. Grievance and problem solving frameworks focus on justice in formal terms. A complaint is stated by an
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individual citing the violation of a known standard or procedure, and a request for a specic substantive or procedural remedy is made (Ewing, 1989). At the same time, an informal system of justice often exists in the subordinate subcultures. The standards of fairness under this system include unwritten norms that go beyond the formal standards. This article investigates the various ways disgruntled subordinates attempt to redress perceived inequities in indirect and informal ways. Some of the tactics these subordinates employ are negotiation tactics, others are coping mechanisms and still others are sanctions that are applied to objectionable managers. This darker side of organizational justice has been given comparatively little direct attention previously, and this shortcoming needs to be addressed (Robinson & Bennett, 1995). Four categories of tactics are described in this article, along with the most commonly associated reasons employees have for adopting these methods. In colloquial terms, this translates into exploring how employees go about evening the score. In some prior work, people have used one generic label such as revenge or sabotage to describe this subject matter (Barreca, 1995; Bies et al., 1997; Giacalone et al., 1997). The different nature of some of these behaviors led us to use four categories, rather than one. Admittedly, some of these behaviors are closely related. Some may also appear together. Metaphorically, a metamorphosis takes place. Unlike caterpillars turning into beautiful butteries, work relationships here will often take a lasting ugly turn. As workplace conicts change form over time, outcomes often become chaotic and unpredictable. The cases and concepts put forward here are intended to ease the process of managers and consultants identifying, interpreting and responding to these subcultural behavior patterns. The metamorphosis metaphor will not solve problems in and of itself. Hopefully, this metaphor will help people to think in a new and more productive way.

Human interactions, emotions, relationships and chaos theory


Rather than thinking in terms of organizations being static, uniform and tightly controlled from the top, we should recognize them as consisting of pluralistic political processes, where matters are being contested, renegotiated and redened on a regular basis (Bate, 1997; Dyck & Starke, 1999). Many employees who have undesirable working conditions forced upon them adapt by forming subcultures. The interpretations rendered in these subcultures and the members interactions with the chain of command shape

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what transpires (Blumer, 1969). The rational image of employees conducting cost-benet analyses inappropriately masks the emotional and relational aspects of workplace conict centering on factors such as self-esteem, status, power and face (Fineman, 1993; Gabriel, 1998a). Many conicts are not resolved via exit, or a dispassionate deliberation in the context of a grievance procedure or problem solving program, resulting in an acceptable explanation or adjustment being made. Instead, subordinates often attempt to relationally settle the score with their managerial antagonists by using informal subcultural means. This tends to produce unpredictable outcomes. When there are more variables than has currently been recognized, the number of variables is too overwhelming to deal with at one time or some variables are inuenced by things we cannot control or predict, we need to employ a new logic (Blumer, 1969; Shafritz & Ott, 1992). Complex and changing relationships are the norm in human relations (Gergen, 1994). Accordingly, the chaos theory developed in math and science can be meaningfully applied here (Gregersen & Sailer, 1993; Young, 1991). In chaotic systems, tiny causes can have big effects. This does not mean that there may not be non-chaotic sections in a chaotic system. At the moment, given current knowledge, we simply cannot tell when discontinuities will take place. To say a human system is chaotic does not mean the parties are eccentric or insane. What appears disorderly on the surface may have an underlying logic. One must simply view the system from the proper perspective. Further, a system may not be malfunctioning or disintegrating just because it is undergoing a surprising transformation. When an anthill is knocked over, it may shortly disappear, limp along in a dilapidated state, or be rebuilt into a bigger and stronger complex. Since there are always a variety of ways to adapt to changing circumstances, with renewal being preferred, we need to study such human situations carefully. For most people, mounting workplace frustrations result in adverse consequences including souring attitudes, withdrawal and overt or covert remedial actions. There are many tacit aspects of these corrective measures that superiors seldom fully appreciate. Supervisors will sometimes glimpse parts of disquieting employee behavior patterns without fully grasping the meaning of these signs. These observers may alternatively slough the situation off, react defensively to the threatening information, or view it as a starting point for analysis. Consider the issues raised by the following four examples: Case 1. On Valentines Day, a black rose was delivered to the manager of a convenience store. Upon inspection, it appeared the owers petals had been spray painted with a very thin coat of paint. The messenger

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who delivered the gift was recognized as the best friend of a former employee who had recently transferred to another outlet in the chain. This gift infuriated the recipient. A personnel manager had to spend several hours with her to calm her down. He explained that the company did not want to take formal disciplinary action. He also tried to dissuade her from pursuing any form of personal retribution. Case 2. Tensions mounted in a hospital as a series of efciency studies were conducted, and a new level of middle-management was introduced into an already confusing dual hierarchy of administrators and physicians. A series of phoney memos appeared, one of which announced a new VP had been hired into a position in paperclip control. Although operations continued normally, upper-level management reacted as if these behaviors were a major offense. Inquiries were made, but the author was never identied. Case 3. A series of lookouts were posted across a large parts warehouse to protect an employee who broadcast a recording of I left my heart in San Francisco over the intercom system. The work activities of 60 employees came to a halt as they cheered and shouted One more time and Another trumpet solo. The supervisors scurried about looking for the culprit, but their search was unsuccessful. Case 4. The primary form of communication between labor and management in a manufacturing plant had become written grievances. The 300 employees were regularly ling 20 to 30 complaints a month. The parties had become close-minded and accusatory, and discussions were frequently highly charged. One day the executive who was responsible for all of the plants in this line of business arrived for a rare plant tour. As the group executive came in the front door, the entire shop walked out the back door. The plant manager pleaded with them not to stage a wildcat strike over a seemingly trivial issue but to no avail. Shortly thereafter, a new plant manager and personnel manager were selected to turn the situation around. In each vignette, tensions were clearly evident. At least one managers authority was called into question. Yet, none of these scenarios involved a clearly stated core problem and request for a specic remedy. In terms of the nature of the disruption, the obscurity of the roots of the matter, and the severity of the organizational outcomes, a broad gamut of possibilities exists. These cases reect a range of supervisory responses. In Case 1, the rst

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line supervisor wanted to retaliate. The personnel manager, however, chose to let things blow over, assuming that little needed to be done about the incident. The more general and anonymous comical tactics employed in Cases 2 and 3 evoked more uniform anger. The managers took offense because these acts deed their authority and ridiculed them. If the perpetrator(s) could be found, disciplinary sanctions would have been invoked. In Case 4, upper-level management alternatively decided that new plant leadership was necessary to bring the situation under control. Relationship issues seem to be at the heart of the matter in each case. One could hardly construe the black rose in Case 1 as a compliment. Without additional information, one cannot tell what led up to this gift, or how many other employees felt like giving the boss a black rose. The memo distributed in Case 2 indirectly referred to the irritating new cost-control measures and the perceived double standard with regard to bloated administrative stafng. Still, the breadth, intensity and accuracy of these frustrations need to be determined before any course of remedial action could be sensibly considered. While the tape escapade in Case 3 had some game-like qualities, there were also some rather ominous tones. Production ceased entirely for a time, virtually all of the employees took part, and the relational roots of the problem remained occult. Matters were even worse in Case 4. The work stoppage was longer in duration and there were no comical aspects to it. An antipathy had developed between the parties. This made all of the varied substantive issues secondary. The resulting atmosphere was more like that of an industrial war than a deant game. Many supervisors resent any perceived deance of their authority. They seldom consider the possibility that they could have contributed to the problem. Distinguishing between benign employee horseplay to relieve the monotony or blow off steam, and calculated attempts to arouse, embarrass and frustrate management may be difcult. Assessing the varied degrees of severity can also prove vexing. Ultimately, one must decide if (1) the problem is largely an isolated instance, or (2) underlying systemic problems exist that need to be addressed. The metamorphosis metaphor employed here seems a bit more descriptive of how conicts twist, change form and surface at much later points in time than do terms such as goal displacement (Thomas, 1976), sabotage (Dubois, 1979) or hidden conict (Kolb & Bartunek, 1992). The term goal displacement also inappropriately implies that the goals of the various groups of managers and those of the various employee subcultures can and normally should be the same. Instead, the various groups can be expected to have some common and conicting goals. Sabotage will be found to be only one of the many behaviors employees engage in, with some

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being quite different in nature. As the introductory cases show, there may well be hidden elements in such conict situations. All of the subordinates tactics and the reasons for them, though, are not hidden. For these reasons, the metamorphosis metaphor was adopted in this study. Some subordinate behaviors, such as those in Cases 13, may serve as functional coping mechanisms that release pent-up frustrations. Yet, many forms of metamorphosis can be extremely damaging in substantive, social and psychological terms. If nothing is done about the underlying conditions that led up to a particularly dysfunctional state of affairs, future problems seem inevitable (Roethlisberger, 1941). Based on existing eldwork, it appears that if the root relational problems can be identied and dealt with, all of the associated conicts will quickly fade away (Whyte, 1951; Worthy, 1994). Chaos theory can now be conceptually applied. The potential for chaotic behavior exists in any complex system that includes both positive and negative feedback. Work systems regularly provide feedback in positive forms such as praise, awards, raises and promotions, and negative forms such as counseling, criticism, punishment and discharge. The forms of feedback controlled by subordinates, including exit, sabotage and all of the other tactics mentioned in this article, certainly need to be included in this calculus. When the balance in feedback for the entire system shifts from positive to negative, a grave metamorphosis can be said to have taken place. Probably more common than these dramatic and widespread ground shifts are smaller and more localized phase shifts within regions or other subsections of the overall system. In order for a work system to be effective and efcient, the various pieces have to be coherent and operate in a coordinated fashion. When the metamorphoses described here occur, the coordination between one or more of the parts may break down. The potential for problems to grow and compound certainly deserves attention. An analogy can be drawn between metamorphosis and cancer. Both benign and malignant growths can be found. Just as when a cancer metastasizes, an organization can become severely ill if metamorphic conicts infect either numerous operational units or a few key units. While managerial transformations are possible to offset such disruptions, such as the replacement of two managers in Case 4, we should not underestimate the difculties posed by these situations. When great systemic complexities exist, forecasting all the consequences of each and every possible course of action becomes highly problematic for decision-makers. Striving to alleviate the chaos requires certain basic steps. The relevant individuals and groups need to be identied (Giacalone et al., 1997). As the introductory cases illustrated, managers are not always sure who has done

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these things. The reasons for the observed behaviors also need to be diagnosed. The various groups that are involved tend to have their own truths. One or more of these subcultural truths constitutes the foundation for the subordinates illicit actions. The person or group taking action feels justied (Hogan & Emler, 1981). Arriving at a single agreed-upon truth may be impossible. If it can be done, it will probably be the product of a negotiation. Given the lack of trust that normally accompanies these situations, one will not always be able to get straightforward answers from subordinates. Thus, one must learn how to interpret these situations in other ways. The cases and concepts put forward here should facilitate this process.

Methodology
A eld-based comparative method (Durkheim, 1938) was adopted in this study. The documented historic eld studies were reviewed. This literature was compared to the cases gathered for this project (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). The author and his students have been collecting cases sporadically for the past 15 years. The cases were also internally compared to each other. The objective was to inductively discern different forms of metamorphosis. All of the cases gathered for this study came from the USA. Most of the participants came from the lower half of their respective hierarchies. Edgar Schein (1985: 67) has pointed out that directly asking about grievances or conflicts often inhibits dialogues. These words tend to carry negative connotations such as conflicts are bad and grievants are troublemakers. Thus, in order to avoid these stifling stigma, our subordinate interviewees were told that this was a study of human relations between superiors and subordinates, and the less value-laden term problem was used. Another series of interviews were conducted during the same time frame. These concerned how managers handled problem employees. Inadvertently, during these interviews we encountered the other side of the coin. The four incidents cited above represent the conduct some supervisors glimpsed, had to interpret and ultimately cope with. The fifth case cited in the latter stages of the article shows in some depth the complexities and difficulties involved. Respondents statements bearing on others attitudes and motivations were concretized by asking for examples of the interactions which led to these conclusions (Blumer, 1969). When the problem being discussed involved others, efforts were made to interview these individuals as well. If a conict seemed to be in a state of ux, follow-up contacts were made to more fully capture the situation (Fortado, 1990). It was not possible,

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though, to contemporaneously gather data in each case and interview each person mentioned. The collected cases are something short of an allencompassing momentary account rendered by each party. While our accounts are not totally objective, what is real to a person is by its very nature real in its consequences (Thomas, 1928). This needs to be appreciated. An interview guide was created, pilot tested and revised to guide the dialogues (Appendix). Its semi-structured format was intended to relieve the respondents anxiety about what the interviewer was looking for and provide comparable information, while maintaining the exibility to explore unexpected phenomena (Gorden, 1980; Loand & Loand, 1984; Whyte, 1984). The interviews were either tape-recorded or verbatim notes were taken. The average dialogue was roughly 90 minutes. This translates into 4550 doublespaced typed pages. It is well recognized that the appropriate sampling technique varies according to the problem at hand. Our end is analytic generalization rather than statistical generalization. Theoretical rather than random sampling is thus called for (Whyte, 1984). In contrast to the requirements of deductive hypothesis testing, inductive analyses can be effectively carried out on unrepresentative pieces of the target population as long as the sample is a heterogeneous one that reects the worlds true complexity (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). The illustrations used here come from a convenience grocery store chain, a hospital, an auto company, an electrical equipment company and a steel mill. Glaser and Strauss (1967) use the term saturation to refer to the process of nding fewer and fewer new categories, suggesting that existing possibilities have been exhausted. In retrospect, the observations made in historic eld studies touched on each of the four categories of metamorphosis outlined here. The cases gathered by the author and his students added many interpretive nuances, but no brand new categories. In this sense, the authors exploratory comparative task has long been completed. The last in-depth case description does go beyond the historic literature in terms of how the interviewer and participant lay out a complex chain of events and interpretations. This situation had to be progressively grasped and dealt with over time. The managerial participant was allowed to review and revise her case summary.

Four forms of metamorphosis


Four forms of metamorphosis are identied in the following sections: namely, restatement, pressure tactics, retribution and compensatory acts. The possible

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reasons subordinates would employ these methods are summarized in Table 1. As we proceed, it ought to be kept in mind that these categories sometimes blur together. One of my students pointed out that some tactics may be on a borderline between categories, going to one side or the other depending on the subordinates motives in a particular situation. Notably, restatement and pressure tactics are bilateral negotiations. Although the exchange between the parties may be far from congenial, the participants recognize whom they are dealing with and the potential for accommodation exists. The same cannot be said of compensatory acts and acts of retribution. These are essentially unilateral attempts by the aggrieved to get even. The visibility of the organizational impact on performance also varies. Compensatory acts and restatement tend to have more subtle impacts, while pressure tactics and acts of retribution tend to be more blatant.

Table 1 The common meanings underlying each form of metamorphosis Type of metamorphosis Restatement Common associated meanings Rationalize the complaint Increase leverage via wording Allow face saving Open out of bounds issues Salesmanship Attain widespread support Wear down economically Wear down emotionally Attain respect Assert control over their destiny Seek future consultation Increase group unity End the inequity Make the other suffer Whittle down career stake Avoid or ease work demands Defend self image and impress others Prevent a repetition Symbolically lower other Vent frustrations via humor Commiserate with peers Lower own inputs Hide lack of compliance Symbolic and material gain

Pressure tactics

Acts of retribution

Compensatory acts

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The restatement of a complaint


The category of restatement includes all alterations in the expression of a complaint that are intended to further an aggrieved persons achievement of a desired outcome. Examples of restatement can be regularly found in most work sites. Employees often rationalize and objectify their feelings (Roethlisberger & Dickson, 1939). Subordinates have learned that statements of fact receive more recognition than statements of sentiment. Therefore, remarks like the room is too hot, will be used rather than personalized observations like I feel hot (Roethlisberger, 1941: 20). Basically the same objectication process that is operating in these casual gripes can be found in the framing of many formalized complaints. It has previously been noted that disgruntled female and minority employees in the US often phrase their concerns as discrimination charges, rather than simply calling the objectionable behavior bad management (Salipante & Aram, 1984). The potential government intrusion into personnel practices, the mounting legal costs, the discomfort of responding to investigators inquiries, and the extremely damaging stigma that publicity of such charges can bring, frequently result in managers quickly and quietly settling these claims. In labormanagement relations, some union stewards have been found to be quite adept at phrasing their demands in a manner that provided a high degree of plausibility and legitimacy (Batstone et al., 1977). Of course, whether one is unionized or not, it is important for grievants to nd the most favorable passages of the formal rules, procedures and collective agreements to cite. Corporate handbooks, ethics statements and institutional histories also provide potential sources of leverage. Craftsmanship is undoubtedly involved in juxtaposing the passages in particular situations to lend credence to ones argument. It has been noted in prior eldwork that employees and their representatives may ask for one thing formally, while their true intention is actually to attain quite another thing informally (Kennedy, 1954; Kuhn, 1980). For instance, when there are concerns over how machine downtime is being handled in an incentive pay system, a safety issue may be raised. Nothing is expected to be done on the latter issue, but it is hoped the former will be addressed. There are several reasons it might be fruitful to indirectly state ones grievance. If the desired concession eventually is granted, management will not publicly lose face. After all, the visible formal issue has been denied. This technique can also allow a complainant to pursue a matter that is formally out of reach. Adjustments may alternatively be sought on issues that have been settled previously and are therefore out of bounds at this time. A

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highlow game could also be played. Complainants ask for a very costly change, thereby making their true desire seem like a more attractive cheaper alternative. On occasion, grievants rephrase their concerns into group issues. This increases their political power base and it enhances their popularity. At rst this seems like a universally good idea. Yet, a trade-off normally exists. When there are limited resources available to address complaints, having more people making demands leaves less money to help any one individual. In a related vein, an employee leader can urge a manager to satisfy the justied grievances of his constituents or else he or she cannot be responsible for controlling them (Dubois, 1979). Here, depending on how events unfold, the category of restatement may cross into the ensuing categories of pressure tactics and acts of retribution. Similarly, when a complaint is phrased in such a way that the character of the managers involved is tarnished, perhaps regardless of the actual decision, the categories of compensatory acts and acts of retribution become relevant.

Applying pressure tactics


The category of pressure tactics encompasses the means that subordinates can employ to forcibly compel their superiors to make adjustments. Whether a decision will be modied by pressure tactics comes down to a test of strength between the parties. While the attitudes of the parties can vary widely from having mutual respect for a worthy opponent to hating a despicable adversary, a negotiation is clearly underway. The use of pressure tactics has long been recognized. In the early 1900s, non-union manufacturing employees were found effectively negotiating incentive rates with management by varying their levels of output restriction (Mathewson, 1931; Roethlisberger & Dickson, 1939; Roy, 1952). Later, unionized workers proved to be at least as effective as their non-union brethren (Whyte et al., 1955). In unionized settings, ooding the grievance procedure has proven to be a potent tactic. This can easily consume large amounts of managerial time, and it also provides a set of new chips to trade to achieve a desired settlement (Whyte, 1951). Kuhn (1961) coined the term fractional bargaining to describe how favorably situated work groups would use tactics such as work slowdowns, orchestrated absences, doing poor work and refusing to work outside of classications, to achieve their ends. When one group can choke off the output of many others, the stoppages that occur have been called bottleneck strikes. Persistent harassment can take a heavy toll on production as well as drain management emotionally. Perhaps an even more effective method than consistently exerting pressure is to vary productivity

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markedly from one day to the next (Kuhn, 1980). Some people call this corkscrewing production. The uncertainty of not knowing what will happen on a particular day, and seeing the undeniable costs of sharp swings in output, can prove quite enervating. Similar activities can occur in non-union settings. When top managers urge employees to call them with unresolved complaints, and at the same time they tell the supervisors that the phone had better not ring, the employees have clout (Foulkes, 1980). Failing to keep a problem from reaching upper-level management can be viewed as a sign of incompetence (Mechanic, 1962). Ironically, the more trivial the issue seems, the more damaging it may be to the supervisor who fails to settle it. Some companies, like IBM, employ multiple voice mechanisms to make it even more likely that complaints will be brought forward (Ewing, 1989). While one problem may not cripple a managers career, numerous problems certainly could have deleterious consequences. Supervisors have thus been sent an unspoken message by upperlevel management. They should make careful decisions and be informally responsive because they will be held accountable. Until top managers abandon counting grievances regardless of their relative merits as an evaluation criterion, the subordinates in these organizations will be able to exert pressure whenever they please. Other sources of leverage are often available. Secretaries and clerical workers play a crucial role in processing information and handling day-today problems that is seldom appreciated (Evans, 1987). Communication can be thought of in terms of being manipulated as a reward or a punishment. One can reduce uncertainty and circumvent problems by notifying another about key factors, or information can be withheld so that the other party suffers (Timm, 1978). Subordinates may also sit on completed work or make persistent minor errors. These acts are generally of such a minor nature, they carry little danger of incurring discipline. Similarly, most low-level employees can resist new procedures with relative impunity by following their habitual ways. This trained incapacity greatly aggravates their superiors who must constantly remind them that these methods are outdated, while the workload falls further and further behind schedule (Merton, 1957). In each pressure tactic scenario, the workers are trying to assert more control over their destiny. Even if the decision is not altered in the desired fashion this time, management may learn that it is well worthwhile to consult the workers in the future. Since internal group unity can be enhanced substantially by carrying out these tactics, employee leaders may even seek out controversies (Coser, 1956). When a meaningful dialogue takes place and a rapport is established, one could characterize a system as being decentralized or democratized. Disgruntled groups, on the other hand, may forcefully and

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disruptively pursue their own parochial interests, thereby making their situations far more chaotic (Kuhn, 1961; Sayles, 1958; Sayles & Strauss, 1967). Of course, superiors may not properly interpret the treatment they are receiving. More specically, supervisors might conclude that their subordinates are simply untrustworthy and incompetent rather than that they are negotiating. Such a failure to communicate could easily result in the workers losing hope of achieving any sort of accommodation. If the previously described tactics continue to be carried out with no intention of altering a particular managerial decision, then the workers have switched to the next category to be covered, which could be dened as acts of retribution.

Carrying out acts of retribution


The category of retribution contains the means by which subordinates can exact revenge upon their distasteful superiors. In contrast to the bilateral negotiation tactics, acts of retribution are largely unilateral. Having already received a blow, the subordinates strike back (Fisher & Baron, 1982; Marongiu & Newman, 1987; McLean-Parks, 1997). Of course, this may not end the matter if the managers involved look for the offenders and/or implement sanctions. Still, the patterns that arise here seem different enough to warrant a separate category. The workers, though, are not simply settling the score by damaging management. Virtually any such action will improve the state of the employees to some degree. For instance, remarks such as we showed them convey powerful subcultural meanings. Those who lament lose-lose scenarios and false conicts (Coser, 1956; Lewicki et al., 1994) are thinking solely in terms of material outcomes, whereas the workers are focusing on the social and psychological outcomes. In keeping with the idea of the need for an eventual balance in exchanges (Blau, 1964), the time and effort expended to become an exemplary employee generally deters an immediate exit. Very intense reactions can be expected when there has been a major loss of status. These employees often express the greatest resentment over being betrayed (Barreca, 1995). People nd it difcult to simply walk away from a position they have poured a great deal of energy into. Their career stake must normally be slowly whittled away. This means that the most destructive vengeful scenarios are likely to involve formerly devoted and dynamic employees. When people are forced to do things against their will, they may vent their frustrations on whatever is nearest to hand (Dubois, 1979). Essentially two things can be sabotaged: namely, the means of production and the commodity itself (Taylor & Walton, 1971). Breaking machinery, vandalism, turning the employer in for minor health and safety violations, ridiculing

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pro-management employees, and defacing, destroying or otherwise ruining the operations products are all potential tactics. Even something as simple as following the rules precisely (working to rule) when they were normally bent can effectively cripple some operations (Gouldner, 1954; Roy, 1954). The term malicious compliance refers to employees following their superiors instructions to the letter, even though they know that the outcome will be counterproductive. Workers may also fail to look busy when upper-level managers are moving through their work area in order to get their superior chewed out (Roy, 1953). This tactic is obviously a bit risky, since some harsh consequences may ensue for the work group as well as for the supervisor. Prior research has documented how disgruntled employees sometimes start small res or arrange other breakdowns so they can have break-times from their work or avoid a distasteful job entirely (Taylor & Walton, 1971). Shortcuts are also used to ease difcult tasks. In airplane construction, workers regularly use tools called taps to make the pieces t (a very hard steel screw that can be used to force new threads over the original threads of the nut). This practice often proves to be a harmless circumvention of what the workers perceive as unreasonable technical requirements given the expected work pace. Yet, such tricks of the trade can compromise the integrity of the product and result in disasters down the line (Bensman & Gerver, 1963). Frequently, the adverse treatment the employees perceive threatens their self images and damages their pride (Marongiu & Newman, 1987). Responding in a tough fashion can act as a safety valve, allowing the aggrieved to continue in the relationship (Coser, 1956). By teaching management a lesson this time, future repetitions of the deleterious behavior may be deterred. Employees almost universally hate feeling powerless. Vengeful acts can alleviate this sense of impotence. A sense of dignity and self-esteem is regained (Barreca, 1995). In very severe cases, the pleasure of seeing their tormentor enduring hardship becomes paramount to aggrieved employees. Sabotage can also be fun. Great ingenuity is frequently displayed in the workers carefully calculated acts (Taylor & Walton, 1971). Those who do spectacularly daring and deant deeds often attain great status among their co-workers who share their ill feelings (Dubois, 1979). Just as was true in the prior category, employee leaders may lose control. Much as in some riot situations, it is possible for a group hysteria to take hold. These collective frenzies are not very well understood. Nonetheless, it is generally accepted that individuals can lose their natural inhibitions during such events, and carry out acts of great violence and destruction (Stagner, 1956).

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A loss of face is necessarily involved for the management in all acts of retribution. An important degree of control over both the means and the ends of the operation has been lost (Taylor & Walton, 1971). When managers actually begin altering conditions to appease the workers, and there is at least some positive response, as in Case 4, a re-negotiation has begun which would shift the scenario over to the category of pressure tactics. On occasion, angry employees verbally tar superiors. When managers hurl insults, subordinates often, for safety sake, respond in kind behind their backs (Gabriel, 1998b). Hurt subordinates can spread rumors, discuss an event taken out of its proper context, or actually manufacture a complaint about an antagonist. Gossip and innuendo are relatively common weapons of retribution (Gluckman, 1963). Those who are disgruntled frequently jump to conclusions and suggest illegitimate motives underlie a persons pay raises or promotions. Alleging that a distasteful gure slept her way to the top would be a case in point. While many of these ploys may fail, something has been accomplished if any of the tar sticks. If the other party remains largely unaware of what has been said, and that persons career has not been covertly damaged, the symbolic venting of ill feelings would fall under the following category of compensatory acts.

Taking compensatory actions


The category of compensatory acts covers the social and psychological coping mechanisms subordinates employ to alleviate the frustrations that stem from being inequitably treated. Any human action that is not reexive or instinctive has symbolic content. The compensatory acts that compose this category are generally heavily imbued with meanings. In each case, authority gures are being discredited or their directives are being outed. Like acts of retribution, discontented employees are unilaterally redressing at least some portion of the perceived problem. Unlike acts of retribution, the primary focus here is not placed on managerial reactions. Having given up on management willingly listening and making adjustments, some subordinates retreat into their subculture. When inequities are believed to exist and the managers seem insurmountably powerful, it is only natural for subordinates to share their miseries and counteractively bond together (Berger & Luckmann, 1966). Their interactions and enactments create communities of understanding that are at odds with those of their superiors. It is the symbolic factors, rather than the substantive ones, that are paramount. Many denigrating compensatory acts remain hidden from the managers concerned. Embittered employees continually nd creative ways of defying authority and ridiculing distasteful managers. Supervisors are frequently the

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butt of jokes, nicknames or stories, and insulting grafti or cartoons often surface (Fortado, 1992a, 1998). A number of anthologies of comic ofce memos have been compiled (Dundes & Pagter, 1987, 1991). This body of folklore suggests that lampooning superiors is a widespread phenomenon. All these forms of ironic humor contain important clues as to what issues are troubling people (Hatch, 1997; Hatch & Ehrlich, 1993). Some of the unattering stories told about superiors are undoubtedly exaggerated, distorted and apocryphal (Taylor & Walton, 1971). These tales are told and retold in no small part because they embody common feelings of hostility toward superiors. An analogy can be drawn here with how cartoons bring points home via exaggeration. People realize that the subject matter has been taken out of its natural context and aspects have been blown out of proportion. Paradoxically, these distortions make the employees situation clearer to others rather than more obscure. This is due to the fact that key elements that determine the nature of the relationship have been underscored. Laughing at an intimidating thing generally diminishes its impact and thereby helps subordinates regain a degree of control over their situation (Barreca, 1995). The deprecation of superiors can be viewed as the reverse of the process of managers gaining deference by doing more for subordinates than can be repaid in kind (Blau, 1964). The employees restore a balance in the exchanges between the parties by lowering the supervisors status in their minds. The more biting forms of humor clearly do carry risks of managerial retribution. Still, the generally accepted playful intention of joking, and the frequent ambiguity of the message, provide the teller with some zone of safety when adverse reactions arise (Turner, 1972). When employees reduce their effort due to their discontent, it has alternatively been labeled shirking, social loang, or free riding (Kidwell & Bennett, 1993). Going a step further, the term skiving stands for employees working at not working: this includes pretending to be busy and drawing out errands, tasks and breaks (Davis, 1985). White-collar workers may indulge in schmoozing, which refers to their ability to move around the facility, leave for extended lunches, visit with peers, and socialize or fulll non-work chores on the phone (Shrank, 1974). In a related vein, previous eldwork has uncovered how employees in monotonous jobs may escape from their doldrums via banter, jokes and informally taking breaks at regular intervals to enjoy some food (Roy, 1959). Sham performance is the appropriate term to use when employees pretend to carry out their instructions, but actually hold back much of the requested effort. The term ddling is used in the UK to encompass the varied previously mentioned methods of cheating on time to the skimming of funds,

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goods and/or materials (Ditton, 1977). Underpayment has probably been the most commonly considered reason for workers to steal (Greenberg, 1990, 1993). In some cases, the amounts involved are small in comparison to the perceived inequity. When employees secretly hit the boss where it hurts, they often revel in the fact they have got away with something that is not permitted. A tremendous thrill is associated with carrying out prohibited acts with the possibility of getting caught. When subordinates succeed, they have beaten the system. This recaptures at least part of the control over their lives that their superiors have usurped (Henry, 1978). In monotonous jobs, ddling can also make ones work more interesting, providing a degree of individuality, challenge, creativity and fun (Mars, 1982). Once the employees have observed managers indulging in ddling, or they feel superiors are robbing or twisting them, they are highly likely to take up ddling themselves (Dalton, 1959; Ditton, 1977; Greenberg & Scott, 1996). When networks of people become involved in pilferage, creating chains of obligations and reciprocities, the social and psychological benets predominate over the substantive benets (Henry, 1978). If the ddling accrues into a substantial amount, or if the employees intend the loss to be visible, then elements of retribution enter into the equation.

A case example
At this point, examining a practical example should make the relevancy of this paper more apparent. Case 5 illustrates the complexity of unraveling the meanings in a dynamic conict situation. This scenario took place in a company whose primary products were steel wire and cable. There were two major facilities: namely, the original mill that was unionized and located in the middle of a city of roughly 800,000 in the southeastern US, and a newer mill that was non-union and located in a nearby rural area. The former had a population of roughly 300 (200 production workers, and 100 clerical and management employees), while the latter was around 100. The same upperlevel managers oversaw both of these facilities. The following events ensued after Ellen, a new human resource (HR) manager, was hired. In her rst three months on the job, she encountered a number of hostile acts at the older, unionized, urban plant. This was the location where the top managers resided. Interpreting these events proved to be a rather difcult task because there were a large number of potential underlying causes. A series of changes were carried out during this period. These could be characterized as a formalization of rules in some cases and the establishment of new systems/procedures in others. One of the driving forces behind the old

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HR manager being removed and Ellen being hired was that a number of discrimination charges had been led. An Ofce of Federal Contract Compliance (OFCC) audit had identied some discriminatory practices and corrective action was pending. Accordingly, some of the discretion that had been vested in the good old boy network in the plant had to be reined in, especially in the hiring process. Safety was also an issue. The production workers had long worn hard hats and eye protection. Now they were being required to don both hearing protection and back braces. The back braces were particularly distasteful because they were quite hot, being composed of a heavy fabric that fastened around ones waist with velcro tabs. A female rest room, as well as a rest room and parking places for disabled employees, were also added during this period. The two parking places for disabled employees consumed two large spaces in the area immediately adjoining the entrance to the plant. The HR ofce was also located in this vicinity. Ellen believed that it was essential for the disabled parking places to be as close to both the HR ofce and the plant entrance as possible. The reserved parking spaces for Ellen and her assistant were one aisle over from the new disabled parking places. Ellen was somewhat surprised when the subject of parking places evoked a highly emotional response among the employees. Some sharp remarks were made to the effect that these disabled places were being put in for the convenience of the HR ofce. Ellen pointed out that the OFCC did come to inspect the plant, and management had to keep these places open. She concluded that some of the employees were either unaware of this government pressure or disbelieved this rationale. There had always been reserved parking places for all ofce, clerical and management employees. At this point in the plants history, spaces for production worker parking were in short supply. Even when a person was lucky enough to nd a space in an expedient fashion, it could easily be in an outer area that would require walking 50 yards or more to get to the plant entrance. On many days, Ellen found someone had parked in her reserved spot when she arrived at work. While this also occasionally happened to her assistant, there was a noticeable difference in the frequency of occurrence. The plant manager told Ellen that she should block the offending car in, and that would put an end to the behavior. She refused to do this, and simply parked elsewhere. When the disabled parking places were rst introduced, an employee named Joe, a former union president, deantly parked in one of them on a regular basis. Ellen spoke to Joe about this on numerous occasions. He refused to comply, stating that these were not legitimate disabled spaces, and she had not properly gone about establishing them.

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One day, in a casual conversation with the Vice President (VP) of manufacturing, Ellen mentioned this problem. The VP immediately went to where the employee in question was working, and told Joe in no uncertain terms that he should move his car at once or it would be towed away. Although Ellen did not observe this exchange, she believed that it was a quite heated one. Further, she thought that Joe had been embarrassed in front of his peers, and he attributed this visit to her. Joe did move his car, and henceforth ceased parking in the disabled places. One morning, two or three days after this confrontation and roughly three months after Ellen joined the company, she found a dilapidated wheelchair in one of the disabled parking places when she arrived at work. She interpreted this as an indication of how ridiculous Joe felt the disabled parking spaces were. Ellen thought this was in good taste. She and the other managers laughed about it, thinking it was a good way to get back at them. When Ellen told Joe she thought the wheelchair was a good idea, he reacted in a very hostile fashion. He told her that those were not legal parking spaces. He was going to park there if he wanted to. He did not care what she said. Further, he said the wheelchair was not his idea and he would appreciate it if she did not bring it up again. Ellen discussed the matter with the Plant Manager, the VP of Manufacturing and the VP of Finance. They decided to leave the wheelchair where it was. They felt it was a good joke, Joe had gotten them back, but now it was a showdown to see who would cave in and move it. These managers concluded if they moved it, the employees won, whereas, if the employees moved it, they won. After about 10 days, an employee whom the managers identied as one of Joes friends took the wheelchair away. Ellen had no doubt that Joe had made points among the workers via this act of deance. Based on his reaction to her admiration of his joke, she concluded that he wanted to infuriate her. Hence, he became angrier when she seemed to be taking it in her stride. In terms of the categories described earlier, Ellen had interpreted this incident as a compensatory act, only to nd Joe was operating in the retribution mode. The discussion among the managers revealed they viewed this as an ongoing negotiation. They were clearly considering social and psychological factors when they decided to let the employees be the ones to move the wheelchair. Ellen was simultaneously negotiating with both the employees and her fellow managers. One might dismiss this incident as the act of a hothead or a person making a mountain out of a molehill. There were, however, quite a number of possible underlying frustrations which could have been contributing to the conict. The following account should not be considered to be the one and

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only truth. There are probably many ways to interpret what had transpired. Rather, these are some of the events that Ellen and the interviewer discussed as potential contributing factors. It will become obvious that tracing the roots of this conict is no easy task. Even though Ellen had only been there a few months, matters were quite complex. The situation was also constantly changing. During the course of the interview, more and more facets emerged. Some of them only became apparent to her almost a year after the wheelchair incident. Utilizing a short-term time horizon would certainly have led to shallow and erroneous conclusions. Ellen believed that her gender, background and position were important factors. There were other women at the site, particularly in clerical positions. Ellen, though, was the rst woman to enter the management ranks in this company. She had also been hired from the outside rather than promoted from within. During the job interview process, Ellen was stress tested (i.e. badgered and interrupted). Subsequently, it was explained that this was a tough environment, and she would have to be tough to succeed. Although she had previously held positions as the top HR person in two other workplaces, one nearby industrial site and one service operation, some doubts were still voiced about her abilities. The salary level necessary to hire her, and the level of discretion she requested, were both considerably above those of her male predecessor. This rankled some of the staff. On a day-to-day basis, Ellen found some of the men felt: There was no place for a girl in their mill. In particular, some of the men found it highly objectionable to have a woman telling them what they could and could not do. On more than one occasion Ellen encountered direct resentful comments like Before you came, we didnt have to do all this stuff. Since the prior HR manager had not been very active, there was also considerable irritation over the addition of a new level of complexity and added formalization. This was certainly true on the aforementioned hiring and safety issues. It also went further into everyday labor-management relations. Whereas the union president might have previously worked out an informal arrangement to solve a problem with the plant manager alone, now the HR manager would have to be consulted. In academic terms, Ellen introduced changes in the work organization, and the interactive human system defensively responded. She also had to come to grips with the tough overall organization culture as well as the jealous managerial and sexist male subcultures. Each person who is injected into a social system alters the system and is altered by the system. The injection of upper-level managers tends to create larger splashes. The following event, which took place on an extended holiday weekend, also contributed to the overall tensions. When Ellen arrived at the

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plant unannounced, she found it to be virtually deserted despite the fact a normal shift was scheduled. Upon investigation, she discovered that after having worked more rapidly than usual to attain what was considered normal production, the vast majority of the workers had knocked off early and gone home. One worker would stay and punch out the time cards of the rest. This way, they would all receive their full wages and upper-level management would remain ignorant of what had transpired. The rst line supervisors, wanting to get along with the workers and being largely in sympathy with them on the issue, consented to this arrangement. Ellen exposed this practice and insisted on putting an end to it. Historically a church group and/or some relatives of the employees would prepare food and sell it out of the back of station wagons in the parking lot at a lunch or dinner time roughly once a week. Ellen decided to terminate this popular tradition. Although no formal complaints or litigation had been initiated, Ellen believed this was an accident waiting to happen. She was afraid the company might be held liable for bad food (since the dishes might sit in the sun for some time) or for any accident that occurred. It was also possible that other groups, religious or otherwise, might want access to the premises, and if this was denied, they could claim discrimination. The employees were naturally resentful, having lost two valued social arrangements. Ellen had thereby placed herself at odds with the norms, mores, customs and practices of the plant oor subculture. Roughly 30 days after Ellens arrival, there was a regularly scheduled union election. The existing ofcers were four white males. There were a growing percentage of minorities in the workforce. These workers did not always agree with how issues were handled by these ofcers. The managers were not certain about what transpired at this annual election, or what charges were made. In the end, they knew the four current ofcers left the meeting before the vote was held, and four minority candidates were elected. According to the grapevine, the old ofcers were criticized as being too close to management. There were around 200 bargaining unit employees. In the year preceding this vote, only four grievances had been led. Furthermore, a number of long-term employees who were minorities had been dismissed and these cases had not been arbitrated. In fact, no case of any kind had been arbitrated in several years. It was quite common for union membership to surge to about two-thirds before an election and then dwindle to under 50 percent. The drop off after this election was far more dramatic. At the time of the interview, only about 50 employees were union members. There had been as many as one 130 shortly before. Ellen had nothing to do with this internal union turmoil. She believed some of the resulting pent-up frustrations diminished as people progressively

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became more comfortable and brought their problems to her. Nevertheless, this change in union leadership was relevant because it resulted in Joe and his allies being embittered. Additionally, the new union leadership had no prior experience. At times, the managers found themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to educate them. The international union representative, who dealt with this facility along with several others, was unable to get Joe to help out in any way. He refused special projects. Joe also would not informally help to push matters through or shape compromises. Each time he refused to help, he attributed his decision to the idiots who were running the local union. While unions are not normally discussed in cultural terms, Ellen had to deal with two subcultural factions, and the fallout from their dispute. Roughly eight months after the wheelchair incident, the company held a dinner where the managers and the employee leaders could get to know each other. Ellen sat next to Joe at this event. She felt that this was a turning point in their relationship. Exchanging some background information, and talking about matters outside of work, helped to personalize things between them. This alleviated some of the tensions. Joe also spoke about several work matters. Ellen gained valuable insight when he explained his feelings about the layoffs and pay cuts that had occurred in the prior year. It was the norm to work what was called a threefour rotation. One week an employee would work three 12-hour days, and the next week he or she would work four 12-hour days. One month before Ellen arrived, management had laid off roughly 20 workers and either eliminated or substantially reduced the overtime of the remaining workers. Although rates varied somewhat by position and tenure, this often translated into a drop in earnings of $10,000 per year. The average straight rate was approximately $24,000, which with normally scheduled overtime came to $28,000 to $30,000 a year. When the facility was operating at top capacity, earnings could reach $36,000 to $40,000 per year. The recent cutback in earnings caused severe hardship for some workers who lost their cars and homes because they could no longer make ends meet. Joe really resented the fact that there had not been any managerial layoffs, and that the management bonus program continued during this period. He and his comrades took it personally that the burden was not being equitably shared. The workers had initially been told this change was temporary. In actuality, it took 18 months to largely return from 8- to 12-hour shifts and completely bring everyone back from the layoff list. Even during the period in which this case was compiled, there was still not quite as much overtime as there had been at some points previously. An interesting social aspect of workplace conicts surfaced here. Joe

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and some of his constituents were not the ones directly impacted by the layoffs. Nonetheless, they were offended and reacted to what had been done to their comrades. Every decision, even those impacting on only one worker, can result in collective relational evaluations and emotional reactions (Fortado, 1992b). Ellen played no part in the initiation of this turmoil within the union or the original decision to have cutbacks. Yet, the resulting frustrations contributed to the deant and vengeful acts she experienced. These were important parts of the dynamic social reality she had to deal with whether she liked it or not. When disruptions occur, ripples are sent out across the prevailing subcultures, and ripples are sent out over time. Ellen had become part of an ongoing set of interactions and negotiations, where symbolic issues far beyond the substantive items had to be taken in account.

Conclusion
When managerial actions do not produce a satisfactory state of affairs, disgruntled subordinates look for ways to settle the score. Given the seemingly universal nature of this reaction pattern, why should any aspect of it be called abnormal, antisocial, or deviant (Marongiu & Newman, 1987)? This sort of labeling ignores the original perceived wrong, and it slants all that follows towards the views of those in power. Superiors cannot totally control their employees decisions in these matters. Management, however, can partially shape its destiny. All of the relevant parties must strive to alter their relationship. This will not take place overnight. Trust and communication must slowly be built up (Briggs, 1986). As Case 5 graphically demonstrated, it can take a very long time before some pertinent information comes to light. Moreover, when external consultants are introduced, they will have to become part of the relationship before undertaking any efforts to make changes (Gergen, 1994). A oneday or one-week program can hardly be expected to alter what has taken years to form, with all the associated historic and social behavioral complexities this entails. Managers can easily make mistakes in diagnosing situations. This may result in managerial actions that make matters worse, or at the very least delay the needed remedial actions. In Case 5, the HR manager attempted to laugh with a person who wanted to evoke an angry reaction. This only made matters worse. In general, the diagnostic challenge of compensatory acts and retribution should exceed pressure tactics and restatement, since the actual extent of the discontent and the relational roots of the matter are harder to

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discern. Insofar as remedial interventions go, the heavy accumulation of frustrations and intense emotions that envelop pressure tactics and acts of retribution are difcult to deal with. Conversely, compensatory acts and restatement should be more amenable. It should also be recognized that these categories are more easily separated in abstract discussions than they are in practice. As the severity of the situation grows, all the varied forms of metamorphosis can become intertwined and reinforce each other. The overlapping tactics and the associated multiplicity of the underlying meanings make remedial efforts much more difcult. In an earlier article, the author and a colleague coded, among other things, the forms of metamorphosis found in 50 subordinate interviews. Fiftyeight percent showed evidence of metamorphosis. We identied restatement in 14 percent [7 out of 50]; pressure tactics in 12 percent [6 out of 50]; retribution in 10 percent [5 out of 50]; and compensatory acts in 38 percent [19 out of 50] (Fortado & Salipante, 1991). A little over a quarter of the activity consisted of multiple forms of metamorphosis [8 out of 29 = 28%]. We checked things like the percentage of the sample that was unionized, and found it was close to that of the overall population [20%]. Nevertheless, we made no general claims. The way our cases were gathered may have random elements in it, but this in no way qualies the results as a random sample. These gures merely provide some indication of the prevalence and meaningfulness of our concepts. Like other exploratory interpretive researchers before us (Roethlisberger, 1941), we were not really very interested in building airtight denitions or counting people statistically in particular classications. In our cases, it was not unusual for subordinates to engage rst in behind the scenes compensatory acts. If matters worsened, they might then move on to other methods. Factors such as the tangible and intangible composition of the matter, the overt or covert nature of the action, and the number of people who are involved, all interact to determine the likelihood of managerial recognition, the probability of a promising outcome, and the possible severity of an adverse result (Elangovan & Shapiro, 1998). Covert deant acts seem fairly safe, so it is not surprising they are often encountered in practice. Compensatory joking, effort reduction and theft are encountered in most large workplaces. Overt pressure tactics that give the participants a high prole, and covert acts of vengeance that carry stiff penalties for those who get apprehended, are much riskier propositions. Activities such as slowdowns and sabotage accordingly occur less frequently. Some researchers have sought to identify a set of relatively universal progressive steps, mutually exclusive categories, and causal models (Dyck & Starke, 1999; Isabella, 1990; Pondy, 1967; Robinson & Bennett, 1995). There is no doubt the presence and nature of voice mechanisms, subcultures

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and supervisory relationships make a difference (Robinson & OLeary-Kelly, 1998; Skarlicki & Folger, 1997). Nonetheless, over time, we became convinced the situational, emotional, relational and interactive nature of these scenarios are critical and should not be cut away. Some prior researchers (Hollinger & Clark, 1982; Mangione & Quinn, 1974), for instance, have drawn a sharp distinction between property deviance (sabotage, lying about hours, stealing, etc.) and production deviance (leaving early, excessive breaks, working slowly, etc.). Whether workers charged for more hours, or worked less during their actual hours, does not seem particularly relevant. The damage to the organization and the underlying meanings to the workers could be much the same. In order to grasp the situation that exists, how it came about, and subsequently to decide if corrective action is necessary, and what path might be the most productive, one must delve into specics. Discarding the traditional grievance and problem solving frameworks seems unimaginable. Yet, in practice, there are frequently very long time frames involved, emotions often run high, and social, interactive and interpretive issues need to be considered. These realizations have serious practical implications. Short-term analyses and individualistic remedies are unlikely to adequately address long-term widespread morale problems. Managers should take great care diagnosing the relational roots of discontent, rather than ignoring signs of trouble or jumping to implement interventions before the underlying issues have been fully developed (Elangovan, 1995). For matters to improve, light must be shed on the true nature of the situations and the true consequences of the managers decisions. Accordingly, we need to augment the traditional frameworks. Managerial practitioners normally do not want to consider complaints that are past ling deadlines, or beyond the substantive and procedural realm of their voice mechanisms. Academic researchers have long recognized the relevance of day-to-day negotiations between managers and workers, sabotage and ddling. The importance of the symbolic, cathartic and relational subcultural behaviors that were documented here, however, has largely been overlooked. The black rose sent in Case 1 serves as a good example of the misunderstanding fostered by the conventional wisdom. From a legal standpoint and that taken by most academic organizational models, this superiorsubordinate relationship had ended. Yet, the behavior of both parties indicated that they were still enmeshed. Evidently, these people were following a different model, one that focused on relationships and exchanges in much broader terms. Moreover, virtually all of our participants talked in terms of hard feelings, harsh words and emotion-laden actions, all with longlasting impacts, when they were interviewed. The traditional models essentially create an organizational fantasy. The

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distasteful aspects of hostile interactions are sanitized. This treatment parallels the denial and distancing mechanisms described in the psychological literature. Any one who has conducted interviews as we have will be unable to deny the emotional power of these dialogues. Interviewees tend to feel invigorated as they discuss their experiences, while interviewers normally feel enervated by the traumatic accounts. When realities are hard to accept, people tend to only deal with the aspects they have to, and the ones they feel capable of handling. Many people are only able to cope with limited doses of this potent brew. Oversimplications, such as it is a personality clash, help to skirt the depths of the interpersonal mire. One could hardly quickly set down or grasp the multiple incidents and factors laid out in Case 5. The HR manager had to accept she created some of the hostile reactions she encountered. Other frustrations were either pre-existing or were largely created by others. The presence of so many causal factors in this scenario, and the interactive nature of the situation, produced some unpredictable chaotic outcomes. Managers should come to accept this, rather than denying or ignoring it. The long-standing theoretical neglect of emotions can be at least partially attributed to: (1) the difculty of capturing them; (2) the difculty of accepting them; and (3) the difculty of resolving disputes along these lines. It remains to be seen if emotions can be fruitfully studied in lab experiments, role-plays and physical tasks in outward-bound events, or if observation and interviewing must be employed. One area this article did not address is the very different norms that often exist in organizations with respect to the acceptability of men and women engaging in certain emotional behaviors such as yelling, cursing and crying. This subject deserves to be examined. One might also explore whether some structural characteristics or personality types tend to be associated with particular behavior patterns (Robinson & Greenberg, 1998). Social constructionism and symbolic interactionism do not suffer from the conventional rational myopia. Symbolic behavior, relationships and emotions are given the center stage in these paradigms. A few oversights, though, can still be found. For example, some social constructionists focus their attention entirely on talk and, more specically, the contents of dialogues and story telling (Shotter, 1993). Giving a person a black rose conveys a message without anything being said. It would be a mistake to dismiss this as a unique event. When the author used this case in some of his classes, he quickly heard about another case where a dozen dead roses were sent to a manager. Our case archives and the literature cited in this article have also documented numerous other symbolic actions that conveyed meanings and shaped relationships.

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It might be argued that both the sender and the recipient of the black rose probably discussed the matter with their co-workers, family members and friends. Therefore, our attention could be exclusively focused on talk. This argument, however, is logically awed. The exclusive talk stance ignores nonverbal communication. Dogs regularly convey messages by licking their masters faces, scratching at doors, or carrying their leashes into rooms. Although dogs cannot talk, they certainly can and do effectively convey many meanings. A signicant amount of human communication is also nonverbal (Fast, 1970, 1991; Lewis, 1989). The employees in our cases often built and conveyed meanings via deant acts, drawings, paintings and cartoons. Their managerial counterparts frequently had to interpret these events without having anything approaching a complete explanation. Further, even in analyzing dialogues one has to consider how things were said and what was not said. Sometimes one must read between the lines. Certainly the words of the song I left my heart in San Francisco had little to do with the deant act and short work stoppage that occurred in Case 3. In sum, all meanings are not captured by simply what is said. We therefore need to take a broader interpretive perspective. Searching for a precise causal model, which yields exacting explanations or predictions, appears pointless given the chaotic nature of these human situations. Case 5 showed how many incidents need to be considered together in rendering interpretations of events such as the wheelchair being placed in the disabled parking space, and this information may not all be known at a specic point in time. One must recognize an identical act can have quite different underlying meanings. For example, the wheelchair being put in this parking place could plausibly be interpreted as being either a compensatory act or an act of retribution. Moreover, quite different acts can have the same underlying meaning. This seems quite evident after reviewing the various ways subordinates can exert pressure on their superiors and exact revenge. In view of these tremendous complexities, conducting in-depth case studies and identifying concepts that provide analytic insight are the order of the day (Blumer, 1969). Just as moving clouds and trickling droplets of water have unique characteristics and unpredictable paths, so do most work situations. We should not decontextualize, fragment and force human problems into depersonalized procedures or unrealistic models. Instead, people need to progressively improve their abilities to recognize and analyze these situations. It should be underscored that the key outcomes in these chaotic conict situations are the symbolic transformations that take place within the parties interactions. Put somewhat differently, the metamorphosis that takes place is not just within the conict itself, but within the underlying relationship. The employees in their subculture are creating their own reality and

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conrming it. The dramatic acts they carry out bond them together and collectively enable them to make sense of their situations. It is the social and psychological changes far more than the substantive ones that determine the nature and direction of a relationship. Hence, these are the key diagnostic areas that practitioners, consultants and researchers should focus on in the future.

Acknowledgements
The author would like to thank David G. Moore, Steven K. Paulson, Paul F. Salipante and several blind reviewers for their comments on earlier drafts of this paper. The author also owes a debt of gratitude to John Landefeld, Harry Bollinger, Gary Smith, Barbara Murray and Elaine Smith for their help. An earlier version of this paper entitled Rebalancing Theory: Evening the Score at Work was presented in 1990 at The International Annual Conference of the Association for Conict Management, Vancouver, Canada.

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Appendix Interview guide (probes appear in parentheses)


Problem Identication Have you had any problems recently at work? What was the worst problem that you have ever had at work? Background How long ago did this take place? How long had you been there before this problem arose? Who was your supervisor? (Were other managers involved?) Could you briey describe your job? How many employees were in the work group? How many other employees work at the site? (In the overall operation?) Was a grievance procedure available? (If so, did you know how it operated?) Investigation How did the problem come about? (Tell me about it. When did this start?) What was it that really got you upset about this? (Why were you upset? What were the big issues? Can you give me an example of what he/she would do?) Why do you think this took place? (Why do you think X did that? What do you think X had on his/her mind? What did others think about that?) Did the problem involve other employees? (Was this a common concern?) How did you react to this problem? (Did you do anything to adjust to the situation? For example, did you reword your concerns, pressure your supervisor, or get even via poor work, sabotage, lower effort, theft, or sham performance?) Did you bring any of these issues up to your supervisor? (If so, which ones? What was his/her reaction? Did you formally grieve about this? Have you ever grieved this issue before? What happened?) Were you able to get this problem off your mind at home? (How frequently did it come into your mind? How did you get over it? How long did it take?)

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Had you had any problems there before this? (If so, were the prior problems on the same topic, in other areas, or both?) How do you think things will work out in the future? (Why do you think so?) Do you have any other thoughts? (Have we left anything out?)

Bruce Fortado is Professor of Management at the University of North Florida. He received a BS in Economics (magna cum laude) from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and an MBA and PhD in Management from the Weatherhead School of Business of Case Western Reserve University. He is currently the President of the United Faculty of Florida (UFF) Chapter at the University of North Florida. There are more than 400 faculty members in the bargaining unit. He has served previously as the UFF Grievance Representative from 19946. Professor Fortado has been conducting and overseeing eldwork projects for 20 years and his research interests include workplace conict, methods of social control, grievance procedures and voice mechanisms. [E-mail: bfortado@unf.edu]