Shifting Blame? Experimental Evidence of Delegating Communication

Orsola Garofalo, Christina Rott

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    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
    JournalManagement Science
    Issue number8
    Pages (from-to)3911-3925
    Number of pages15
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018

    Bibliographical note

    Published online: 10. August 2017


    • Delegation
    • Communication
    • Punishment
    • Experiment
    • Dictator game

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