The justice literature suggests that providing accounts for negative organizational decisions can enhance observers' perceptions of fairness and positive views of the organization. However, prior research has yet to distinguish between why- and how-information contained within accounts. Drawing from construal level theory, we test whether accounts focusing on why a negative workplace decision occurred are more effective for observers at higher (more abstract) levels of construal, whereas accounts focusing on how the decision was implemented are more effective for observers at lower (more concrete) levels of construal. Examining the effects of both dispositional and situationally induced forms of construal, we randomly assigned observers to receive accounts of why a company layoff was made versus how it was implemented. Across two studies, we find that explaining why leads to greater perceived fairness and more positive company impressions among individuals at higher levels of construal. We also find in Study 2 that describing how layoff recipients were treated respectfully elicits more positive reactions among individuals at lower levels of construal. Our findings illuminate a cognitive mechanism for when different types of accounts ameliorate observers' reactions to an undesirable organizational event--accounts of why and how are more effective under conditions of construal fit.
Carter, A., D. Bobocel, and Joel Brockner. "When to explain why or how it happened: Tailoring accounts to fit observers' construal level." Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied 26, no. 1 (2020): 158-170.
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