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Centralization and communication opportunities as predictors of acquiescent or prosocial silence.

In an organizational context, silence is described as intentionally withholding job-related concerns and opinions (Van Dyne, Ang, & Botero, 2003). Employee silence may have several negative outcomes that harm organizational management because it negatively impacts innovation and exploration (Milliken & Lam, 2009), decreases the benefits that can be obtained from a variety of opinions (Harquail & Cox, 1993), may result in corruption (Ashforth & Anand, 2003), and reduces employee motivation and trust (Vakola & Bouradas, 2005). Therefore, it is critical to explore the antecedents of employee silence in organizations in order to avoid its negative consequences.

Organizational factors have a substantial influence on individual-level factors (Albrecht, 2012; Lundstrom, Pugliese, Bartley, Cox, & Guither, 2002; Su, Baird, & Blair, 2009). In other words, individuals analyze organizational factors and form their behaviors accordingly. Despite the important role of organizational factors in forming individual-level behaviors, most of the previous researchers on silence have focused on the individual-level factors, such as job satisfaction, organizational identification (Knoll & van Dick, 2012), trust in the organization, trust in leadership, and trust in the supervisor (Nikolaou, Vakola, & Bourantas, 2011) as the determinants of silence, although some researchers (e.g., Rhee, Dedahanov, & Lee, 2014; Wang & Hsieh, 2013; Vakola & Bouradas, 2005) have empirically examined the role of organizational factors in generating silence.

According to Brinsfield (2013), the behavior of silence is not, in itself, attributable to the motive to remain silent; therefore, investigating the behavior of silence is insufficient. Hence, although several researchers have investigated the relationships among organizational factors and silence, much remains unknown concerning how organizational structure and policies impact on different forms of silence, such as acquiescent and prosocial silence. For example, when Park and Keil (2009) examined the relationship between centralization and silence, despite the fact that they reported a significant association between these two constructs, they did not specify the intentions of individuals to be silent when organizations have a centralized structure. Vakola and Bouradas (2005) explored the association between communication opportunities and how frequently individuals expressed opinions rather than their motives for withholding information, that is, the unitary construct of silence, but did not measure the influence of communication opportunities on distinct forms of silence. In other words, the primary shortcoming of these authors' investigation was a lack of information about individuals' motives for remaining silent when there is a lack of communication in an organization.

Our aim was to address these gaps in the literature by investigating the relationships among two organization factors, namely, centralization and communication opportunities, and two distinct forms of silence, namely, acquiescent and prosocial silence.

Literature Review


"The key feature that differentiates silence and voice is not the presence or absence of speaking up, but the actor's motivation to withhold versus express ideas, information and opinions about work-related improvements" (Van Dyne et al., 2003, p. 1360). Employee silence can be based on intentions other than avoiding the potential risk of negative consequences of speaking up, such as being labeled a troublemaker by their workmates or superiors, or the risk of triggering a negative relationship with their superiors that might hinder their prospects for promotion or other work benefits (Morrison, Wheeler-Smith, & Kamdar, 2011). Therefore, several researchers have proposed categorizing different forms of silence. For example, Brinsfield (2013) suggested classification of silence into the following five forms: deviant, relational, diffident, ineffectual, and disengaged. Pinder and Harlos (2001) defined two types of silence as quiescent and acquiescent, and compared these two forms in terms of the following eight dimensions: voluntariness, consciousness, acceptance, stress level, awareness of alternatives, propensity to voice, propensity to exit, and dominant emotions. Van Dyne et al. (2003) extended the work of Pinder and Harlos by suggesting the addition of defensive silence and prosocial silence. Acquiescent silence refers to withholding opinions and information on work-related issues based on a disengagement (Van Dyne et al., 2003). When individuals are disengaged from organizational issues or managers do not react to the information and opinions that individuals share, those individuals perceive that sharing information or speaking up about work-related issues is useless and does not lead to change. Consequently, this perception leads individuals to refrain from speaking up, thereby engaging in acquiescent silence. Defensive silence occurs when individuals withhold their opinions and information based on fear and self-protection. Compared to acquiescent silence, defensive silence is proactive (Van Dyne et al., 2003). Thus, individuals who are aware that they may be punished, labeled as troublemakers, or fired prefer not to speak out about organizational issues, and those motivations lead employees to protect themselves from the negative consequences of speaking up, resulting in defensive silence. "Prosocial silence refers to the withholding of work-related ideas, information, or opinions with the goal of benefiting other people or the organization, based on altruism or cooperative motives" (Van Dyne et al., 2003, p. 1368). Thus, as outlined by Van Dyne et al., employees who engage in prosocial silence are trying to benefit the organization, to protect the organization's reputation, and to conceal information that may harm the image of the organization, and they tolerate difficulties in the organization by declining to complain about inconveniences.

We investigated centralization and communication opportunities as the determinants of acquiescent and prosocial silence. Because centralization and communication opportunities do not have threatening effects, we did not investigate their association with defensive silence.

Antecedents of Silence

Centralization and silence. Centralization is "the extent to which decision-making power is concentrated at the top levels of the organization" (Caruana, Morris, & Vella, 1998, p. 18). Superiors in centralized organizations perceive subordinates' opinions to be less important than their own opinions (Ashford, Rothbard, Piderit, & Dutton, 1998), and this perception discourages individuals from sharing their views with their superiors. When superiors undervalue shared information and suggestions, individuals believe that speaking up is futile and become passive in regard to expressing work-related concerns. Moreover, centralization decreases the perception of control that individuals working at the lower levels of an organization have (Child, 1973). With reduced perceived control, individuals believe that they are incapable of effecting change or having an impact on their environment and, thus, they have low self-efficacy. Eventually, because of their low self-efficacy to make change, individuals do not share their work-related concerns and remain acquiescently silent. Moreover, when decision-making authority is concentrated at the top, individual employees must follow rigid rules and their job satisfaction decreases (Dewar & Werbel, 1979). This reduced job satisfaction becomes an obstacle to employees' performing prosocial behaviors (Ilies, Fulmer, Spitzmuller, & Johnson, 2009), particularly prosocial silence. Moreover, centralized decision-making discourages individual employees from suggesting new ideas (Pierce & Delbecq, 1977). When individuals experience rejection of their ideas, this lessens their intention to benefit their organization with suggestions or other prosocial behaviors, such as prosocial silence. In other words, in a centralized organization, because individuals have reduced job satisfaction and feel rejected by superiors, they are less likely to withhold information and to not harm their organization. Therefore, we proposed the following hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1a: Centralization will positively influence employees' acquiescent silence.

Hypothesis 1b: Centralization will negatively influence employees' prosocial silence.

Communication Opportunities and Silence

Eunson (2012) categorized communication into the following three types: downward, upward, and horizontal. Horizontal communication occurs at a single level, e.g., among teams, among subordinates, or among department managers (Adams, 2007). Upward communication refers to information transfer from lower-level employees to their higher-level supervisors, whereas downward communication involves an information flow from higher level managers to their lower level subordinates (Eunson, 2012). Horizontal communication is fundamental to individuals' sharing information because individuals assess peer support through communication with coworkers and peers before expressing their concerns. According to Bowen and Blackmon (2003), employees do not express their opinions unless they have the support of their colleagues. Additionally, Morrison and Milliken (2000) noted that support from coworkers influences individuals' decision to speak up, so that, when they receive less support from their peers, individuals tend to remain silent. Hence, having communication opportunities provides individuals with support for their opinions and is expected to facilitate information sharing, whereas an absence of communication channels blocks the delivery of support from peers and results in the individual remaining silent. When individuals perceive that their views and suggestions are not valued and will not result in change, they have little self-confidence about sharing information, perceive that raising an issue is useless, and, consequently, refrain from attempting to speak up on work-related issues (Milliken & Lam, 2009) by engaging in acquiescent silence.

When an organization fulfills the needs of individual employees, those employees attempt to reciprocate by their increased commitment to the organization (Malhotra, Budhwar, & Prowse, 2007). Hence, individuals working for organizations in which there is a lack of communication opportunities perceive that their needs for speaking up are not satisfied by the organization because communication channels are blocked, and this perception becomes an obstacle to employees' performing prosocial behaviors--particularly prosocial silence. Thus, when individuals feel that their needs for speaking are satisfied by their organization, they will try to reciprocate by withholding information that is perceived as a potential threat or harmful to the organization. Therefore, we proposed the following hypotheses:

Hypothesis 2a: Having communication opportunities will negatively influence employees' acquiescent silence.

Hypothesis 2b: Having communication opportunities will positively influence employees' prosocial silence.


Participants and Procedure

We conducted a survey among 1,170 employees of 37 companies in the heavy-industry sector in South Korea. Employees were invited to participate in the survey by the company managers. All of the participants were highly skilled full-time employees. In order to ensure the confidentiality of responses, the respondents were not asked to identify themselves in the survey. We provided participants with stamped and addressed envelopes and survey forms and asked them to return these directly to the researchers. We received 834 responses, among which 90 were excluded because of incomplete data; thus, we received 744 usable responses. The overall response rate was 63.6% (38.2% women and 61.8% men). With respect to age, 27.6% were between 25 and 35 years, 42.7% were between 36 and 45 years, 20.3% were between 46 and 55 years, and 9.4% were between 56 and 65 years.


As the original scale items were written in English, professional translators rendered the measurement items into the Korean language. To evaluate the semantic equivalence and the appropriateness of the scales, we gave the English and Korean versions of the scales to bilingual experts. The experts reviewed the items until they detected no further inaccuracies in the translation to ensure the content validity (Schwab, 2005). Moreover, to confirm the accuracy of the translation, bilingual experts backtranslated the scale items into English using the backtranslation procedure recommended by Brislin (1993).

Centralization. Centralization was measured using four items taken from the study by Aiken and Hage (1968). These items were rated on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = always, 5 = never). Example items included the following: "How frequently do you usually participate in the decisions on the promotion of any of the professional staff?" and "How frequently do you participate in decisions on the adoption of new policies?". The scale's Cronbach's alpha reliability in this study was .769.

Communication opportunities. The communication opportunities construct was measured using five items from the study by Vakola and Bouradas (2005). The items (e.g., "There is adequate communication between employees and the top managers of this company," "Communication with colleagues from other departments is satisfactory," and "The company keeps employees informed regarding its mission, plans, and progress") were rated on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree). The Cronbach's alpha coefficient for this sample was .881.

Silence. In our study, we used items developed by Van Dyne et al. (2003) to measure acquiescent and prosocial silence. The items are rated on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree). Example items include the following: "I am unwilling to speak up with suggestions for change because I am disengaged" and "I protect proprietary information in order to benefit the organization." The scales' Cronbach's alpha reliabilities were .837 and .831, respectively.

Control variables. Because it has been found that age and gender have a potential impact on information sharing, previous researchers have controlled for these demographic variables (Rhee et al., 2014; Wang & Hsieh, 2013). Thus, we also controlled for age and gender of individuals by utilizing a close-ended format.


Assessment of Common Method Variance

The effects of common method bias were assessed using AMOS version 21. We calculated comparative fit index (CFI), Tucker Lewis index (TLI), goodness-of-fit index (GFI), root mean square residual (RMR), and root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA) and the results revealed a poor model fit (CFI = .257; TLI = .165; GFI = .545; RMR = .413; RMSEA = .196), showing that there was no common method bias, as the relationships among the constructs did not fit the model. As an additional safeguard, common method bias was assessed via a post hoc analysis using Harman's single-factor test (Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Lee, & Podsakoff, 2003) for all items. No single factor emerged in the results and there was no general factor that accounted for the majority of the variance. An unrotated factor analysis extracted four distinct factors that accounted for 62.912% of the total variance. The largest factor explained 19.196% of the variance. These results provide additional evidence that common method bias was not likely to be a significant problem in this analysis.

In Table 1 the correlations among the variables are shown. Acquiescent silence was positively correlated with centralization. Prosocial silence was positively correlated with communication opportunities and negatively with acquiescent silence.

Measurement Model Results

Confirmatory factor analysis was conducted to examine the overall measurement model prior to analyzing the hypotheses. The goodness-of-fit statistics for the measurement model produced a significant chi-square value ([chi square](744) = 179.438, p = .031, [chi square]/df = 1.229). Other fit measures of GFI, CFI, adjusted goodness-of-fit index (AGFI), and standardized root mean square residual (SRMR) indicated a good fit to the data (GFI = .975, AGFI = .967, CFI = .994, SRMR = .023). Reliability of the measurements refers to how well the items for one construct correlate or vary (Straub, Boudreau, & Gefen, 2004); constructs with a score higher than .70 for Cronbach's alpha show high reliability (Nunnally, 1978). In this study, all Cronbach's alphas exceeded .70. Moreover, all of the factor loadings exceeded .50 and were significant (p < .01), which provides evidence of convergent validity.

As can be seen in Table 1, the average variances extracted all exceeded the .50 threshold (Hair, Black, Babin, & Anderson, 2010) and each was greater than the squared correlations between the construct in question (Fornell & Larcker, 1981). Hence, the measures showed discriminant validity.

Hypotheses Testing

To test the hypotheses, we applied structural equation modeling, and results indicated a good fit, as judged from the goodness-of-fit indices ([chi square] = 189.279; [chi square]/df= 1.279; p = .012; CFI = .993; RMSEA = .019; SRMR = .0348; GFI = .974, AGFI = .966). Standardized estimates were used to evaluate the validity of our hypotheses. The results demonstrated that centralization positively influenced acquiescent silence ([beta] = .304, p < .01). However, the relationship between centralization and prosocial silence was not significant ([beta] = -.070, p > .05). Thus, H1a was supported and H1b was not supported. The results indicated that communication opportunities were not significantly associated with acquiescent silence ([beta] = .041, p > .05) but did have a significant and positive relationship with prosocial silence ([beta] = .101, p < .05). Hence, H2b was supported and H2a was not supported. Control variables of age and gender did not influence either acquiescent or prosocial silence.


We designed this study to examine the associations among centralization, communication opportunities, acquiescent silence and prosocial silence. The results showed that centralization enhanced acquiescent silence; in other words, when all authority rests with top management and decision making is centralized so that subordinates are disengaged from organizational issues, subordinates behave passively and conceal their work-related concerns. This finding is in line with that of Rhee et al. (2014), who found that disengagement from decision making led individuals to behave passively and not give voice to their suggestions and opinions. However, we found that centralization did not influence prosocial silence among our participants, and, our results showed a positive and significant relationship between centralization and acquiescent silence. One of the items to assess acquiescent silence was "I keep any ideas for improvement to myself because I have low self-efficacy to make a difference." Therefore, we surmised that the reason that centralization did not influence prosocial silence may be that in an organization with a centralized structure, individuals conceal information based on the belief that they cannot bring about any change by making suggestions, and they may not have any other intentions when they remain silent.

Our results also indicated that communication opportunities were not significantly associated with acquiescent silence. Individuals may not perceive the absence of communication opportunities as the most serious and primary obstacle to information sharing; therefore, they may not consider their self-efficacy in sharing information when there is a lack of communication opportunities in the organization. Further, our results showed that communication opportunities were positively and significantly related to prosocial silence. In other words, the existence of adequate communication opportunities between employees and top managers in an organization, and a company's efforts to keep employees informed regarding its missions, plans, and progress, affect employees' decision to remain silent for the benefit of the organization. Hence, when management fulfilled individuals' need for communication by creating communication opportunities in the organization, our participants attempted to reciprocate by maintaining a prosocial silence. This finding supports that of Malhotra et al. (2007), who posited that individuals increase their commitment to the organization when the organization satisfies their individual needs. However, our results contradict those of Vakola and Bouradas (2005), who found a negative relationship between communication opportunities and silence. This can be explained by the different interpretations of the construct of silence. Because the focus in the unitary construct of silence is on the frequency of speaking up, it is perceived as a general measurement tool for silence (Brinsfield, 2013). In contrast, our participants had to consider several alternative reasons for their silence rather than their silence, as a general behavior. Thus, they had to consider their intentions so that they could identify the specific reason for concealing information. Therefore, there may be a difference between individuals who are responding by attentively assessing their specific intention in maintaining silence and individuals who are considering only reporting on their frequency of speaking up.

Theoretical Implications

We believe that we have extended the literature on employee silence by providing a richer understanding of the relationships among centralization, communication opportunities, acquiescent, and prosocial silence. We have made the following key theoretical contributions: First, although Park and Keil (2009) explored the positive relationship between centralization and silence, very little was previously known regarding what form, or forms, of silence may have been induced by centralization. Therefore, we have contributed to the silence literature by exploring centralization as a predictor of acquiescent silence.

Second, our aim was to fill a gap in knowledge regarding the relationship between communication opportunities and silence by investigating the associations among communication opportunities and different forms of silence. We found a positive relationship between communication opportunities and prosocial silence.

Practical Implications

When an organization has a centralized structure, this increases the likelihood of individuals' acquiescent silence. Therefore, we suggest that the management of organizations solicit employees' opinions in the decision-making process. Moreover, in this study, we demonstrated the importance of establishing self-managed teams that have the authority to make decisions (Huang, Van de Vliert, & Van der Vegt, 2005) in enabling employees to share work-related problems and suggestions. Moreover, our findings suggest that a lack of communication opportunities is an obstacle to individuals' prosocial silence. Because employees' prosocial silence benefits the organization, we recommend that managers establish an open-door policy; they should organize opportunities for exchange of experiences and knowledge among employees and should take steps to create an environment of adequate communication between employees and top managers to enhance employees' intentions to benefit their organization by concealing information that may harm the organization.

Limitations and Future Research Directions

Despite the fact that we have extended the literature by exploring centralization and communication opportunities as the antecedents of acquiescent and prosocial silence, there are several limitations in this study. First, we investigated centralization and communication opportunities as the antecedents of acquiescent and prosocial silence but did not investigate other forms of silence. Therefore, we suggest that future researchers examine the associations among centralization, communication opportunities, and other forms of silence, such as deviant and relational silence (Brinsfield, 2013), and opportunistic silence (Knoll & van Dick, 2012). Second, by focusing only on the antecedents of silence, we failed to include the consequences of multidimensional forms of silence. Therefore, future researchers should extend the literature by including in their models the consequences of multidimensional forms of silence. Third, another notable limitation of the study is the use of self-reported data and a cross-sectional design. We suggest that in future, a longitudinal design could be more appropriate for this type of study.


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Yeungnam University

Alisher Tohirovich Dedahanov, Choonghyun Kim, and Jaehoon Rhee, School of Business, Yeungnam University.

This work was supported by the Year 2012 Yeungnam University Research Grant.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Choonghyun Kim or Jaehoon Rhee, School of Business, Yeungnam University, 214-1, Dae-Dong, Gyongsan City 712-749, Republic of Korea. Email: or
Table 1. Means, Standard Deviations, and Intercorreiations Among the
Study Variables

Variables                       M       SD      AVE    1

1 Centralization                3.249   1.083   .507   1
2 Communication opportunities   2.805   1.218   .608   -.002
3 Acquiescent silence           3.391   1.052   .523   .156 **
4 Prosocial silence             2.654   1.078   .519   -.033
Cronbach's alpha                                       .769
Composite reliability                                  .713

Variables                       2        3          4

1 Centralization
2 Communication opportunities   1
3 Acquiescent silence           .034     1
4 Prosocial silence             .087 *   -.125 **   1
Cronbach's alpha                .881     .837       .831
Composite reliability           .791     .747       .729

Note. AVE = average variance extracted. * p < .05, ** p < .01.
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Author:Dedahanov, Alisher Tohirovich; Kim, Choonghyun; Rhee, Jaehoon
Publication:Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9SOUT
Date:Apr 1, 2015
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