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Fix, Flee, or Fan the Flames? An Attributional Investigation of Relational Responses to Coworker Incivility




Carson, Jack Emery

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation



Restriction Status


Restriction Type

Auburn University Users

Date Available



Workplace incivility, which is low-intensity interpersonal mistreatment with ambiguous intent, is increasingly prevalent in today’s organizations. The ambiguous intent that characterizes incivility suggests attributions about cause and controllability inform employees’ reactions to such behavior. However, little is known about individuals’ attribution-driven reactions to this experienced mistreatment. I draw upon recent developments in attribution theory to approach workplace incivility from a relational attribution viewpoint. I consider target similarity effects to hypothesize that relational locus of causality attributions are related to subsequent relational behaviors. Further, I hypothesize that individuals’ perceptions of their own and their coworkers’ controllability of the incivility moderates the relationship between relational attributions and relationship improvement behaviors (i.e., fixing), relationship avoidance behaviors (i.e., fleeing), and incivility toward the coworker (i.e., fanning the flames). Findings indicate that relational locus of causality attributions are not significantly related to relationship improvement when controlling for internal and external locus of causality attributions, but they are positively significantly related to relationship avoidance and coworker-directed incivility. Additionally, the present study found little evidence for the moderating effect of controllability on these relationships. The study contributes to the literature by expanding incivility’s nomological network to include relational attributions, by shedding light on the potential for shared locus and controllability attributions, and considering the potentially dynamic effect of attributions on subsequent changes in behavioral responses to coworker incivility episodes.