Keeping it between us: Managerial endorsement of public versus private voice

Sofya Isaakyan*, E. Sherf, S. Tangirala, Hannes Guenter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

13 Citations (Web of Science)


When employees use public settings such as team meetings to engage in voice—the expression of work ideas or concerns, they can spur useful discussions, action planning, and problem solving. However, we make the case that managers, whose support is essential for voice to have a functional impact, are averse to publicly expressed voice and prefer acting on voice that is privately brought up to them in one-on-one settings. Drawing on face management theory (Goffman, 1967), we argue that voice expressed in front of an audience, compared with that expressed one-on-one, is more threatening to the image that managers seek to portray as competent and unerring leaders, and that leads managers to respond more defensively to public voice and endorse it less. This, we propose, is especially true when the relationship quality between manager and employee is weak as public voice from relationally distant employees is perceived as a stronger challenge. Across five studies (correlational and experimental), we find support for our arguments and rule out alternative explanations such as that managers are aversive to public voice because it threatens their ego or that managers feel more accountable to act on publicly provided input. We discuss the implications of our findings for theory and practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1049-1066
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Applied Psychology
Issue number7
Early online date2020
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021


  • employee voice
  • image threat
  • public settings

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