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Argumentative Men: Expectations of Success.

Nancy M. Schullery

Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo

A manager may spend as much as 90% of work time communicating Schnake, Dumler, Cochran, & Barnett, 1990). Therefore, the question of what communication behaviors are most successful in organizations is of ongoing interest. One likely candidate for successful communication is the assertive behavior known as argumentativeness, which involves more than skill in constructing an argument. Business communication texts and teachers urge students to be specific in supporting their claims, to be knowledgeable about their facts, and to justify their case with reasons (Ewald & Burnett, 1997, p. 190; Locker, 1997, p. 253), all of which are skills an argumentative person would be likely to use. However, argumentativeness is the tendency to argue, regardless of skill, and itself has been shown to have significant beneficial outcomes in group and workplace settings. As arguing is a largely dyad-based communication that might occur in either written or oral forms and within or across organizational boundaries, an intervention-motivated analysis (Shelby, 1993) of its role is clearly an appropriate concern for those interested in business communication.

Individuals with the personality predisposition of high argumentativeness are more inclined to argue and believe themselves skilled at making arguments. The predisposition has been linked with positive outcomes in the workplace for several years. For example, argumentative persons are reported to be more effective upward communicators (Infante & Gorden, 1985b, 1987), more decisive (Infante, 1989), and more often chosen as group leaders (Schultz, 1982). However, there is little evidence from objective criteria that benefits accrue to argumentative individuals in the workplace, and some evidence to the contrary has recently been reported for women (Schullery, 1998). Women who are either exceptionally high or low in argumentativeness appear to be excluded from higher supervisory positions. Once women are past the first supervisory level, there is a linear increase in argumentativeness moderation with increasing supervisory level, corresponding to the low argumentatives either increasing their argumentativeness or being excluded and the high argumentatives either decreasing their argumentativeness or being excluded. The present study examines the relationship between workplace success and argumentativeness for full-time employed men. Two research questions are posed.

RQ 1: Does the predicted positive relationship between argumentativeness and workplace success exist among men?

RQ 2: Is the same relationship between moderation in argumentativeness and workplace success found for women also true for men?

Argumentativeness is measured using Infante and Rancer's twenty-question scale (1982); an objective criterion, supervisory level, is used to operationalize workplace success.

Literature Review

Argumentativeness is conceptualized as a constructive aspect of assertiveness, an aggressive communicative behavior (Infante & Rancer, 1982). Aggression includes both positive (assertiveness) and negative (hostility) traits (Infante, Rancer, & Womack, 1993, p. 162). Only the positive behaviors will be discussed here. Assertiveness is defined as a "person's general tendency to be interpersonally dominant, ascendant, and forceful" (Infante, 1995, p. 52). By definition, both assertiveness and argumentativeness are constructively aggressive behaviors. Aggressiveness, however, is often associated with only negative connotations (Kraus, 1997, p. 123), which discourages the practice of most aggressive behaviors. Assertiveness is more favorably viewed, and, in the United States, is generally encouraged. Argumentativeness is one type of assertiveness but is not characteristic of all assertive individuals.

An argumentative person is defined as one who enjoys advocating a controversial position while refuting the position of others in an issue-oriented and constructive manner (Infante & Rancer, 1982). This general tendency to argue is quantified by Infante & Rancer's argumentativeness scale, which consists of twenty Likert-type questions (1982). Scores on the scale follow a continuum from very non-argumentative (-40) to highly argumentative (+40). The scale has two components - the tendency to approach argument and the tendency to avoid argument - which combine to provide a net measurement of one's general tendency, but not ability, to argue. The self-report scale includes only two questions regarding one's ability to argue well (Infante & Rancer, 1982, p. 76).

Both the reliability and validity of the argumentativeness scale have been demonstrated (Infante & Rancer, 1996, p. 324; see their article for a complete literature review). The scale also has been shown to be an indicator of argumentativeness in the workplace, as individuals' general tendency to argue and their workplace argumentativeness are strongly correlated (r = 0.81; Darus, 1994, p. 102). The scale has not identified any differences in mean argumentativeness between European Americans and other ethnic groups in the United States or between regional groups of Americans (Infante & Rancer, 1996, p. 335). However, men and women have been shown to differ in argumentativeness. The average scores for men on the argumentativeness scale range from a few to several points above the scale's (zero) center, and are consistently a few points higher than those of women (Anderson, Schultz, & Staley, 1987, pp. 61-62; Darus, 1994, p. 102; Infante, 1982, p. 145; Nicotera & Rancer, 1994, p. 294).

A substantial body of research since the early 1980s has generally supported the notion of argumentativeness as a constructive trait that is linked to positive outcomes. Highly argumentative persons are perceived to be emergent leaders and to influence decision-making in groups (Schultz, 1982, pp. 372, 374). These individuals are more resistant to persuasion, as they are more capable of generating counter-arguments (Kazoleas, 1993, p. 133). If the high argumentative is also low in verbal aggressiveness, he or she is likely to be more persistent in gaining compliance (Boster, Levine, & Kazoleas, 1993, p. 412). They enjoy enhanced credibility (Infante, 1985, p. 43), learn more, and have superior problem-solving skills (Johnson & Johnson, 1979, p. 56). Further, high argumentatives are viewed as "higher on communication appropriateness, effectiveness, perceptiveness, attentiveness, responsiveness, expertise, trustworthiness, and dynamism compared to low argumentatives" (Onyekwere, Rubin, & Infante, 1991, p. 43). Employees who are rated "very satisfactory" by their superiors are also rated higher in argumentativeness as well as in several elements of what is referred to as an "affirming" communicator style (Infante & Gorden, 1989, p. 87). High argumentatives, having so many apparent advantages and such high leadership potential, could be expected to be more successful in their careers than their less argumentative colleagues.

Promotion to successively higher levels of supervisory authority is a widely-recognized, tangible measure of workplace success and should provide a valid indicator of whether measurable behaviors, such as argumentativeness, are in fact valued and rewarded. Argumentativeness is particularly relevant in performing supervisory responsibilities. Supervisors are required to explain to their subordinates work instructions and relevant policies handed down by upper management. They present to their superiors employee and project performance results, plans for future projects, and rationales justifying allocations of the company's limited resources. With these responsibilities, there are numerous opportunities for argument, and a person who is reluctant to advocate his or her position in the face of possible disagreement would not be expected to do well.

Yet, despite the positive, leader-oriented qualities associated with argumentativeness, the research evidence attempting to relate argumentativeness to workplace or management success is equivocal. A canonical correlation study of supervisors (94 men, 38 women) relating six success-related variables to argumentativeness, age, and gender found that argumentativeness was slightly negatively related to salary in the first root, and slightly positively related to salary in the second root. Also in the second root, argumentativeness was substantially related to self-perceptions of career satisfaction and upward effectiveness. However, no relationship was seen with the objective criteria: promotions, management level, or number of subordinates. The sample contained only supervisors, so differences between supervisors and non-supervisors were not investigated (Infante & Gorden, 1985a). Logue (1987) found that argumentative discussions were not valued in the workplace. That sample of largely female supervisors (75 men, 135 women) preferred "to prevent and avoid arguments and associate with colleagues who confirm rather than disagree" (p. 13). A more recent study (94 men, 132 women) found no evidence of a higher or lower argumentativeness by individuals' supervisory versus non-supervisory rank (Darus, 1994, p. 102). All of the above studies used mixed-gender samples.

The discrepancy between these studies and the positive outcomes predicted by earlier research may be due to several possible methodological problems. The first problem is the use of potentially ambiguous terminology, such as upper, middle, or lower management, to indicate workplace rank. Without a quantifiable, comparable measure, these distinctions are imprecise. A second problem is that non-supervisors may contain subsets of individuals who hold very different education and job goals. Some individuals who take non-supervisory jobs to gain experience while pursuing more education may hope eventually to earn promotion. Others desire only to keep their current job. The differing goals, experience, or education may affect or may be an effect of the individuals' argumentative tendencies. A final problem is the possibility that gender effects may have confounded survey results. In the United States, women have different beliefs than men about arguing (Rancer & Baukus, 1987). Women tend to believe that arguing is "hostile, aggressive, and combative communication" (Nicotera & Rancer, 1994, p. 288) and, traditionally, are expected to adhere to non-argumentative stereotypes (Burgoon, Dillard, & Doran, 1983, p. 292; Carli, 1990, p. 949; Wiley & Eskilson, 1985, p. 1000). In an earlier study of full-time employed women, I showed that, after the first promotion, women's moderation in argumentativeness increases linearly with supervisory level (Schullery, 1998, p. 359), although the average argumentativeness is unchanged across supervisory levels. Moderation was expressed in terms of the absolute (unsigned) value of argumentativeness: a high absolute value of argumentativeness corresponds to low moderation. A study of employed men that incorporates all of these considerations has not been reported.

This study extends previous research by (a) testing for a positive relationship between male employees' argumentativeness and the supervisory-level criterion of workplace success, as expected from the numerous linkages to related variables found in the literature and (b) testing for a pattern of increasing moderation in male employees' argumentativeness with increasing supervisory level, as was seen with female employees. Three precautions are taken to avoid the possible shortcomings of prior studies. First, supervisory level is unambiguously defined and used as a rigorous indicator of workplace success, with a sample that contains both supervisors and non-supervisors. Second, gender effects are controlled by restricting the study to men. Finally, non-supervisors are analyzed in terms of two distinct subsets: the ambitious, management-track individuals and the others.


The sample of 283 full-time employed men was obtained with the assistance of students at two large midwestern state universities: Eastern Michigan University and Wayne State University. Students voluntarily distributed anonymous surveys (with stamped, addressed envelopes) to men they knew who were employed full-time in any profession, at any supervisory level. One or two students who were full-time employees asked if they might fill out the survey themselves and were allowed to do so. This method of gathering a convenience sample was chosen in order to gather a sample as large, diverse, and representative of the population as possible and to replicate the methodology used in my earlier study of employed women (Schullery, 1998). Because many of the students at these universities are first-generation college students and approximately 80% or more are themselves employed, the students are likely to have a wide range of employed contacts. The respondents returned the surveys directly to me through the mail. The response rate was 29.6%, based on the number of forms distributed. However, this number is only a lower bound of the net return rate (Babbie, 1990, p. 183) because the students had estimated how many forms they could distribute and I do not know how many actually were distributed.

The men were surveyed for information on their argumentativeness, behavioral, attitudinal, demographic, and employment variables. The respondents represent multiple industries and professions, with experience ranging from 1 to 49 years (M = 15 years). The major industries represented were: manufacturing (33%), education (13%), retail/wholesale trade (13%), transportation, communication, and utilities (10%), computer systems (10%), and other (21%). The respondents' ages ranged from 20 to 73 with an average of 38.3 years. Their education level ranged from high school to Ph.D. and J.D. In addition to non-supervisors, the initial sample included supervisors with responsibilities ranging from levels 1 through 10. The men's argumentativeness level was identified using Infante and Rancer's (1982) questionnaire. Behavioral variables included questions on the man's comfort in disagreeing with his supervisor (a self-report indicative of his ability to be "relaxed" with his supervisor) and a similar question regarding disagreements with other employees. The attitudinal variables included a question on the man's interest in a promotion. Other questions gathered demographic and employment information, including years of relevant experience. Relevant experience was defined as any experience that a person could argue (e.g., during an employment interview) had helped him prepare for his current position. Typically, experience is a prime consideration for advancement to a supervisory role and therefore must be considered as a possible confounding variable (Schullery, 1997).

The men were asked to identify their current supervisory level (SL), operationalized as the number of supervisory levels of authority. A supervisor was defined as someone who makes hire and fire recommendations and writes an employee's performance evaluation. For example, a man who does not meet the definitional criteria is categorized as a non-supervisor, or supervisory level zero (SLO), in spite of any other managerial responsibilities. A man who meets the definition of a supervisor but with authority only over non-supervisors is a first-level supervisor (SL1); those who have SL1s reporting to them are grouped as second-level supervisors (SL2s), etc.

Supervisory level, as defined above, is preferred as an indicator of workplace success for several reasons. Increasing levels of hire-and-fire authority undoubtedly represent higher levels of status and responsibility in the organization. Supervisory status, although not perfectly reliable, is a reasonably consistent indicator of workplace authority and success across multiple industries and professions, compared, for example, to titles such as manager, director, and coordinator. The term manager is especially ambiguous in that it may indicate management of a task, rather than of other persons. The notion of supervisory level as defined here permits more precise quantification of advancement through the management ranks than is possible with more general designations such as upper, middle, and lower. Use of such a stringent, conservative measure of the workplace success construct assures meaningfulness for any correlations that may be found.

It is reasonable to expect that the non-supervisor category is comprised of two distinct groups: those interested in and apparently capable of moving to a higher position, and those who, for whatever reason(s), expect to remain non-supervisors. Three criteria are used to identify the supervisory aspirants: (a) an interest in promotion, (b) awareness and satisfaction of any educational requirements for the next level, and (c) a perception that they will receive an opportunity for promotion in the near future. Meeting all three criteria is an apt description of someone with the requisite ambition and realistic potential to be described as on a management track. Interest in a promotion is the necessary first step in setting a goal of promotion. Awareness and possession of any necessary educational requirements support a claim of interest in promotion and suggest at least minimum qualifications for advancement to supervisory level have been met. Finally, perceiving an opportunity for promotion indicates that the respondent believes that openings exist and that his potential is recognized by management. In this paper, non-supervisors who meet all three criteria will be referred to as "trackers," in reference to their management track perceptions and aspirations. Trackers might be expected to be more like supervisors than the trackers' SL0 non-tracker peers.

The sample was reduced to 274 by retention of only those who were full-time employees (not self-employed) and who answered all questions on the key variables (listwise deletion). The database was further winnowed by deleting the sparsely populated supervisory levels four and above, resulting in four levels of employed men (SLs 0-3, N = 263), including 123 supervisors occupying the first, second, and third supervisory levels at 64.2%, 18.7%, and 17.1% of the sample, respectively.

The data were examined with multiple tests using SPSS[C] software[R]. The sample was first tested for adherence to the normal distribution with respect to argumentativeness at each supervisory level, followed by one-way ANOVA or independent samples t-tests for differences in mean argumentativeness among various groups, and correlation or regression analysis of the key variables. Argumentativeness was normally distributed with equivalent variances for the sample and for each of the supervisory levels as judged by SPSS' Levene's test for equality of variances.


Correlation analysis revealed no significant linear relationship between supervisory level and argumentativeness, either for combined supervisors and non-supervisors (r = -0.105, p = 0.090), or for only the supervisors (r = 0.003, p = 0.970). Table 1 shows the sample distribution, along with the mean value of argumentativeness, range, and the standard error of the mean for the sample and for each supervisory and non-supervisory level. The non-supervisors are broken down into two sub-sets: trackers and non-trackers. Further, in contrast to the finding for female supervisors, there is no significant linear relationship between moderation in argumentativeness and supervisory level (r = 0,068, p = 0.457) for male supervisors.

These findings appear to support prior studies showing no relationship [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 1 OMITTED] with objective criteria of workplace success. However, the weak negative correlation (r = -0.105, p = 0.090) between argumentativeness and supervisory level for combined supervisors and non-supervisors approaches significance and hints at the existence of a totally unexpected inverse relationship. In fact, if argumentativeness and supervisory level are treated as ordinal measures, rather than the interval measures assumed for Pearson's r, the negative correlation becomes significant (Kendall's tau-b = 0.035; Spearman's rho = 0.037). Further analyses, comparing non-supervisors versus pooled supervisors, and comparing the tracker versus non-tracker subgroups of the non-supervisors, exposed the nature of the underlying relationship. Surprising differences exist between supervisors and non-supervisors, and between trackers and non-trackers.

Supervisors Have Lower Mean Argumentativeness than Non-Supervisors.

The supervisors' mean argumentativeness of 1.73 is significantly lower than the non-supervisors in this study (M = 4.53, p = 0.034), and lower than the mean argumentativeness of other men for which published data exist. Table 2 summarizes all the published mean argumentativeness results from those studies that used the same twenty-question Infante & Rancer scale (1982) used in the present study.

The majority of prior studies used college student samples, for which the [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 2 OMITTED] mean argumentativeness of men ranged from 4.44 to 9.39. The present study has the second largest sample of men and surveyed only employed men. The other report for male employees shows an argumentativeness mean of 3.25 (Darus, 1994), which is nearly identical to the 3.22 reported in this study. However, Darus did not separate by gender when comparing supervisory status, nor by supervisory level when comparing genders. The male supervisors' low mean argumentativeness found in the present study is unexpected, based on both the previously reported argumentativeness scores and the many positive outcomes associated with argumentativeness.

Trackers Are Particularly Argumentative.

Those non-supervisors on a management-track might be expected to have an argumentativeness level near that of individuals already in supervisory positions. However, as Table 1 shows, the trackers' mean argumentativeness of 7.51 is not only significantly higher than that of the supervisors (M = 1.73, p = 0.003), but also higher than all but two of the sample means reported in the literature (see Table 2). The trackers both approach arguments more (p = 0.015;) and avoid argument less (p = 0.005) than their supervisory counterparts. Also, a significant difference in mean argumentativeness emerges from within the ranks of the non-supervisory men: the trackers are more argumentative than their less ambitious non-supervisory brethren (M = 3.40, p = 0.033), supporting the notion that the non-supervisory level includes two distinct groups. The distinction between groups is also apparent in the employees' self-perceptions of their comfort when voicing disagreement to their supervisors. While the majority of men at all levels see themselves as being comfortable voicing disagreement: (trackers, 93%; supervisors, 83%; non-supervisory non-trackers, 78%), only the difference between trackers and non-trackers is significant (p = 0.000).

The possibility that these differences are due to fluctuations across industries present in the sample had to be considered, particularly in light of the relatively small number of trackers (n = 41). That is, perhaps the trackers and supervisors are, by chance, from industries that differ in their attraction for or promotion of employee argumentativeness. To examine this possibility, I ran one-way ANOVA tests for the tracker, non-tracker and supervisor subgroups, looking for significant differences in argumentativeness among the ten specified types of industries or the eleventh "other" category to which respondents had assigned themselves. No significant differences were indicated, although the power of the tests would be quite low because some categories were so sparsely populated, if not empty. A further, visual assessment is provided in Figure 1, where the mean argumentativeness of trackers and supervisors is presented for each of the industry categories populated by these groups.

In all but one case (transportation/communication/utilities), the argumentativeness of the trackers' exceeds that of the supervisors in the same industry. It must be emphasized that due to small numbers none of the individual industry differences can be statistically confirmed. Rather, it is the tracker/supervisor difference across industries that is significant, and the nearly uniform pattern seen in Figure 1 offers some reassurance that small-sample fluctuations are not driving those differences.

Age and Experience Do Not Explain Argumentativeness Differences.

As expected, male trackers differ significantly from supervisors in both age and experience, and it is conceivable that those differences might be at least in part responsible for the difference in argumentativeness. The average tracker is significantly younger (M = 32.5 years) than not only the level 1 through 3 supervisors (M = 40.37 years, p = 0.000), but also other SL0 non-supervisors (M = 37.84, p = 0.003). The trackers also have significantly less experience (M = 9.0 years) than either supervisors (M = 16.63 years, p = 0.000) or the other SL0 non-supervisors (M = 15.43 years, p = 0.000). These data suggest that some combination of age and experience (not necessarily supervisory experience) might result in decreased argumentativeness, and, indeed, there is a negative correlation between argumentativeness and age (r = -0.160, p = 0.01) and between argumentativeness and experience (r = -0.149, p = 0.016) for the whole sample. However, this simple explanation is argued against by the absence of such correlations within either the supervisor, tracker, or SL0 non-tracker subgroups. The respective p-values between argumentativeness and age, and between argumentativeness and experience follow for supervisors: 0.214 and 0.219; for trackers: 0.622 and 0.942; and for non-trackers: 0.093 and 0.129. Only the non-tracker values even approach significance, and that is the group of least interest here. Similarly, the combination of both age and experience as independent variables in a multiple regression produces a significant F only for the whole sample (F = 3.108, p = 0.046). Therefore, the weak relationships seen in the sample as a whole appear to be due to differences in mean age, experience and argumentativeness among the sub-groups (i.e., cohort effects), and not due to direct effects of age and experience on argumentativeness. Of course, the possibility of non-linear effects or of weak effects requiring a larger sample cannot be excluded.


The results of this study do not support the notion that high argumentativeness is rewarded in the workplace, at least not with supervisory promotions. In fact, the mean argumentativeness of male supervisors in the present study is actually lower than that of all the male samples reported in the literature and both tracker and non-tracker non-supervisors in this study. Neither is there a relationship between moderation in argumentativeness and supervisory level for men, as there was for women (Schullery, 1998). Comparably wide ranges of argumentativeness - containing both high and low argumentative men - are present among both the non-supervisors and the supervisors at levels 1 through 3.

The difference in mean argumentativeness between the supervisors and non-supervisors is contrary to expectations based on the many positive linkages found between argumentativeness and leadership-related variables. The lower argumentativeness among supervisors does not appear to be due to confounding by age or experience. Also, although industry or profession-specific exceptions are possible, there is no reason to suspect such a bias in the sample used. Analysis of variance failed to detect significant differences in argumentativeness by industry, whether considering the entire sample or only supervisors, trackers, or non-trackers. Although differences may exist in specific firms due to an organizational culture that particularly favors or disfavors argument, the data indicate that, in general, male supervisors should not be characterized as high argumentatives. In fact, the argumentativeness of male supervisors (M = 1.73) is similar to that of the female supervisors (M = +0.36; Schullery, 1998).

A related unexpected finding of this study is the comparatively high mean argumentativeness of the ambitious non-supervisory men, the trackers. This finding, coupled with the below average argumentativeness of supervisors, represents a difference in communication styles that suggests that the trackers' promotion hopes may be overly optimistic. It is noteworthy that high argumentativeness is a trait shared by male trackers (M = 7.51) and male college students (M reported as high as 9.39), despite an age difference of about ten years. Once employed, the trackers must overcome the barriers presented both by their own apparent excess argumentativeness for the job, and a likely "gauntlet" of less argumentative bosses, whose promotion endorsements they will need.

The origin of these surprising results is unknown; a cross-sectional, anonymous survey design cannot, of course, identify cause and effect. Therefore, it is unknown whether: (a) the low argumentative supervisors were always low argumentatives, and had a selective advantage in the promotion process; or (b) they learned on-the-job to control an argumentative tendency, and in the process gained promotion; or (c) they "lost" their argumentativeness after gaining promotion. However, there are arguments against both behavioral-modification hypotheses b and c. The absence of a correlation between argumentativeness and either age or experience among the older, more experienced supervisors argues against the post-promotion behavior modification posited by hypothesis c. Similarly, the absence of a correlation between argumentativeness and either experience or age among the non-supervisory groups argues against the pre-promotion behavior modification posited by hypothesis b. Further, even if the men had modified their behavior, either to gain promotion or as a result of promotion, such modifications would not be expected to result in lower scores on the argumentativeness instrument (as observed for the supervisors in the present study). One's argumentativeness, as measured by Infante & Rancer's scale, is reported to be stable (Infante & Rancer, 1996, p. 324), despite a person's ability to adapt argumentative behaviors to situational influences (Infante, 1987; Infante & Rancer, 1993). (However, the stability of traits is controversial; Kreitler & Kreitler, 1990). This line of reasoning leaves us with the first hypothesis as the most probable: low argumentative men are preferentially selected for promotion into the supervisory ranks. This discrimination appears to operate only going into the first level of supervisory authority (SL1); there is no relationship between argumentativeness and supervisory level among male supervisors above level-1.

The lower mean argumentativeness observed among supervisors might be expected based on the rather gloomy report of McMillan and Northern (1995) indicating that "appeasing authority figures is not only expected, it is rewarded" (p. 23) in U.S. organizations. The authors note with concern that subordinates routinely shape their messages for superiors by "pleasing, appeasing, lying, denying, accommodating, and ingratiating" (p. 22). The dominant management style, far from bringing disagreements into the open, instead encourages employees "to communicate with caution and ambiguity . . . to protect themselves from . . . the sometimes fragile egos of their superiors" (p. 30), communicating only what is "acceptable or safe at any given moment" (p. 30). In their study, the organizational cultures within both profit and non-profit organizations view conflict "as the natural enemy" (p. 31). Further, Schnake et al. (1990) report that managers do not encourage either participative discussion or differences of opinion during goal setting, according to their subordinates. It is reasonable to expect that in such systems, the less argumentative employees would be more highly rewarded. These studies are troubling based on what we know about the need for substantive discussion to produce well-evaluated decisions in groups (Burnett, 1993; Kraus, 1997; Hirokawa & Pace, 1983). The results of the present study are consistent with the findings of Northern & McMillan (1995) and Schnake et al.

The importance of the tracker versus non-tracker distinction identified in the present study prompted me to revisit the data for female non-supervisors in my earlier study (Schullery, 1998). Although the mean argumentativeness of female trackers in that sample (M = 1.98, N = 57) does exceed that of their non-tracker counterparts (M = -1.37, N = 133), the difference only approaches significance (p = 0.078). The data also suggest that female trackers might be slightly more argumentative than female supervisors (M = 0.36), but that difference is even smaller and less significant (p = 0.372) and would require a much larger sample to confirm.(1)

Implications for Pedagogy and Managerial Practice

The most likely explanation of the relatively high mean argumentativeness shared by male students and trackers is that these are the "same" people, separated by ten years of life experience. Ninety-five percent of the trackers in this sample are, or have been, college students, having an education level of an associate's degree or higher. This situation has clear and important implications for those of us who teach business communication: Without intervention, our average male student will enter the workplace with a potential handicap of excess argumentativeness. In fact, this sample indicates a positive correlation between males' argumentativeness and education level that approaches significance (r = 0.111, p = 0.077, N = 254).

Fortunately, a substantial body of research shows that this potential handicap might be turned to advantage. Infante and Gorden (1989) have shown that very satisfactory subordinates are perceived by their superiors as being more argumentative than are less satisfactory subordinates if the higher argumentativeness is accompanied by an "affirming communicator style" (Infante & Gorden, 1989, pp. 83-86). The affirming communicator style was conceptualized by Infante and Gorden (p. 83) as "a necessary complement to more active and aggressive communicator variables such as argumentativeness" and was determined to consist of attentiveness, relaxed state, friendly manner, and a lack of verbal aggressiveness. The attentive, relaxed, and friendly variables were selected from Norton's eleven communicator style variables (Norton, 1978) as those most strongly related to supervisory approval. Other variables that were significantly (but less strongly) related to approval were impression-leaving, open, precise, animated, and communicator image. The fact that the supervisors' rated more satisfactory subordinates as higher argumentatives (Infante & Gorden, 1989), based on the supervisors' assessments of their subordinates' argumentativeness rather than direct measurement using the argumentativeness instrument, suggests three important and promising implications regarding argument instruction. First, the ability to argue well is apparently valued. Second, the tendency to argue, or argumentativeness, is viewed favorably if done in a friendly, attentive, relaxed manner, without verbal aggressiveness. Third, the most effective communicators consider situational variables before arguing (Infante & Rancer, 1982).

Argument skills, affirming-style behaviors and situational considerations are all topics that can be addressed in business communication courses and in practitioners' training seminars. Argument skills are currently included in business communication textbooks (Ewald & Burnett, 1997; Johnson & Bayless, 1997; Locker, 1997; Saunders, 1997) and coverage is to be encouraged. Coverage of an affirming style could be included with listening, positive emphasis, and you-attitude, while awareness of situational factors could be integrated with audience analysis and persuasion. Although their already above-average argumentativeness suggests that male students are more than sufficiently inclined to argue and apparently need little additional encouragement, an awareness of the situational and cultural variables affecting whether or not to argue is necessary. The most effective communicators, before entering a discussion, consider variables such as whether the issue is important, their relationship to the opponent, their own knowledge of the topic, and the probability of success (Infante & Rancer, 1982, p. 74). For example, an unimportant issue on which one's expertise is overwhelmed by the boss' knowledge is not worth arguing. If one decides to argue, thoughtful consideration of the situation can provide guidance for customizing the nature and forcefulness of the argument, including word choices and euphemisms. Such refinements enhance the value of the more fundamental aspects of argumentative skill, such as the ability to be specific in supporting one's claims, to be knowledgeable about facts, and to justify one's case with clear, logical reasoning (Ewald & Burnett, 1997, p. 190; Locker, 1997, p. 253). Finally, students must be urged to consider the argumentative practices of their own organizations and immediate superiors before exercising their argumentative inclinations. Practitioners, corporate trainers and mentors might incorporate similar considerations in their instruction of others.

Limitations and Suggestions for Further Research

The convenience sample used here is limited first by the serf-selection of the student volunteer distributors and second by the willingness of the contacted men to participate. However, there is no reason to suspect bias either with respect to the major variables studied - argumentativeness and supervisory level - or with respect to possible confounding variables, such as age, relevant experience, or industry type or size. The anonymity of the survey design obviously limits the kind of variables (e.g., affirming style, situational factors) that can be studied, but, on the other hand, the information obtained is very likely to be candid.

Two directions for future research emerge from this study. The first is an exploration of the possible industry variations favoring argumentativeness hinted at in Figure 1, and the second is an assessment of the interactions of both affirming style and situational modifications with argumentativeness, and how those impact gaining supervisory promotions. Possible designs for either study might involve a triangulated approach including ethnographic observations, interviews and videotaped interactions. Ethnographic observations could shed light on whether certain industries (or certain corporate cultures within some industries) value argumentativeness substantially more than others. In-depth interviews with supervisory trackers, newly promoted supervisors, and upper level managers could help establish whether employees are promoted based on low or modified argumentativeness, or if argumentativeness is modified after promotion. Finally, videotaped interactions in combination with on-site interviews could help separate an affirming personal style from situational modifications. A number of separate analyses that consider possible variations by industry, organizational culture, geographic region, age of management and size of firm could, in aggregate, substantially enhance our understanding of the role argumentativeness and other communication behaviors play in workplace success.

It might appear that a long-term longitudinal study of workers in a single company is conceptually ideal as a way of holding constant the largest number of confounding variables so that we might learn whether less argumentative men are more likely to be promoted or whether men who are promoted become less argumentative. However, there are important concerns with long-term studies, only one of which is the long-range time commitment. Real-world problems such as turnover, changing business conditions, questionable generalizability and other common hazards of longitudinal studies (Rogosa, 1995; Babble, 1990) would be too likely to produce results of dubious value.


The results of this study contrast with the almost-uniformly positive assertions connecting high argumentativeness and leadership found in the argumentativeness literature. Specifically, it is not true that success will accrue to those who are highly argumentative or that similar argumentative behavior yields similar supervisory rewards for both male and female employees. Rather, full-time employed men in supervisory positions have significantly lower average argumentativeness than non-supervisory aspirants to such a role, and, in contrast to women, male employees display a wide range of argumentativeness at all supervisory levels. These findings, taken together with prior research, support the need for argumentativeness to be accompanied by an affirming communication style, skill in arguing, and an awareness of argumentative practices in one's organization. Students entering the job market without these skills are likely to be thwarted in their promotional aspirations. These behaviors, skills and situational considerations have much in common with our discipline's concern for audience and other elements of the business communication curriculum. This research suggests that, for the sake of the entry-level hopefuls among our students, we should emphasize these topics.

The author would like to thank the editor, anonymous Associate Editor and reviewers, and Dr. Stephen Schullery for their thoughtful comments on an earlier version of this paper.


1. Power analysis shows that the probability of detecting the observed differences in argumentativeness means with p = 0.05 confidence, assuming the differences exist in the population, is 47% for the tracker/non-tracker pair and 17% for the tracker/supervisor pair. Cohen (1988) suggests that in designing a study 80% be used as a reasonable detection probability or power level. To obtain a power of 80% with the observed means would require samples containing 220 each of the trackers and non-trackers, and 1005 each of the trackers and supervisors.


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Nancy M. Schullery is an Assistant Professor in the Business Information Systems Department at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI. In addition to argumentativeness, her primary research interests include conflict management and small group communication.

Preliminary results from this study were presented at the 1997 annual convention of the Association for Business Communication in Washington, DC.

Send correspondence to the author at Business Information Systems Department, Haworth College of Business, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI 49008-3821; <>.
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Author:Schullery, Nancy M.
Publication:The Journal of Business Communication
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 1999
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