Black holes in social space: The occurrence and effects of name-avoidance in organizations

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In contemporary organizations, subordinates often address superiors by their first names but are at times reluctant to use first names of more powerful others because of the form's presumption of familiarity. At the same time, the principal alternative - title and last name (e.g., Mr., Ms., Dr.) - is eschewed because of its connotation of deference and formality. The result is name avoidance and awkward silence. This article reports survey findings from 74 working individuals indicating that avoidance occurs, varies by relative power, varies by gender, and is negatively associated with perceptions of communication openness. Evidently, the conflicting strains between egalitarianism and hierarchy within organizational social systems are strong enough to produce a linguistic black hole. Implications for theory and managerial practice are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)320-334
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Applied Social Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology


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