Shifting Blame? Experimental Evidence of Delegating Communication

Orsola Garofalo*, Christina Rott*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Decision makers frequently have a spokesperson communicate their decisions. In this paper, we address two questions. First, does it matter who communicates an unfair decision? Second, does it matter how the unfair decision is communicated? We conduct a modified dictator game experiment in which either the decision maker or a spokesperson communicates the decided allocation to recipients, who then determine whether to punish either of them. We find that receivers punish both the decision maker and the spokesperson more often, and more heavily, for unfair allocations communicated by the spokesperson if there is room for shifting blame. The increased punishment results from the messenger's style of delivery: spokespersons are more likely than decision makers to express emotional regret instead of rational need. Receivers seem to punish the former style of communication because they view it as an attempt to shift blame. Our results establish more generally that the design of communication schemes shapes relationships among organizational members.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3911-3925
Number of pages15
JournalManagement Science
Issue number8
Early online date2017
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018


  • delegation
  • communication
  • punishment
  • experiment
  • dictator game


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