When Social Accounts Backfire: The Exacerbating Effects of a Polite Message or an Apology on Reactions to an Unfair Outcome1


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    The authors thank Keith Murnighan for his help with this manuscript. An earlier version of this article was presented at the annual meeting of the Academy of Management, Cincinnati, Ohio, August 1996.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Daniel P. Skarlicki, Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia, 566, 2053 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 122, Canada. E-mail: skarlicki@sauder. ubc. c.


We examined the effects of ex ante polite or apologetic messages on an individual's responses to a low (unfair) outcome offered in an ultimatum (take-it-or-leave-it) situation. Results show that these 2 messages (a) increased, rather than decreased, participants' perceptions of unfairness; and (b) decreased, rather than increased, their acceptance of the outcome. Moreover, participants engaged in more punishing behaviors when the outcome was accompanied by either of the messages than when no account was provided. Further analysis revealed that perceived manipulative intent mediated participants' reactions to the polite message and to the apology. These results indicate that if a message seems insincere and manipulative, it can exacerbate an individual's negative reactions to an unfair outcome accompanying the message.