Multiple Effects of Messages with Multiple Goals Some Perceived Outcomes of Responses to Sexual Harassment



    1. Shereen C. Bingham is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication, University of Nebraska, Omaha, Nebraska.
    Search for more papers by this author

    1. Brant R. Burleson is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication, Purdue University, West LaFayette, Indiana. This article is based on a doctoral dissertation written by the first author under the direction of the second author. A version of this article was presented at the Ninth Annual Temple University Conference on Discourse in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, March 24, 1988.
    Search for more papers by this author


Sexual amassment of employees by organizational superiors is a significant and all too common problem in the workplace. Victims of harassment typically want to achieve a variety of instrumental, relational, and identity management goals. The present study tested the perceived effectiveness of different messages with respect to several of these goals. Messages varied systematically with respect to what O'Keefe (1988) has termed “design logic” and “goal structure.” Participants (N= 577) generally perceived messages reflecting advanced design logics and goal structures as being most effective at projecting desired identities and preserving relationships. However, the effects for goal structure were qualified by interactions with gender and interpersonal cognitive complexity. Significantly, none of the messages were perceived as particularly effective at stopping the Liarasser's offensive conduct. These results are discussed in terms of their implications for both O'Keefe's analysis of messages and the management of sexual harassment in the workplace.