Cognition-behavior connections: Attribution and verbal behavior in leader-subordinate interactions

Dennis A. Gioia, Henry P. Sims

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


This study investigated managerial attributions and the observed verbal behaviors of managers and subordinates. Twenty-four experienced managers each interacted with four different subordinates in a simulated performance appraisal setting under different conditions of work history and performance (N = 96 interactions). Managerial attributions were measured both before and after the interaction. The conversational behaviors of both the managers and subordinates were recorded on videotape and then coded into verbal categories for analysis. The results showed distinctly different patterns of managerial attribution and verbal behavior for the subordinate performance failure condition when compared to the success condition, but no response to the work history information cue. In particular, managers tended to probe for the cause of failure by asking attribution-seeking ("why?") questions of the subordinates. In addition, the face-to-face interaction resulted in an attributional shift toward leniency by the managers, who assigned less blame for failure and more credit for success after the interaction. The conversations were marked by reciprocal task information exchange, evaluative behavior, and in the case of low performance, overt verbal attributions by the subordinates in response to the managers' attribution-seeking questions. Overall, the study provided an exploration of the relation between cognition and behavior and details of manager-subordinate verbal behavior in organizational interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)197-229
Number of pages33
JournalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1986

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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