Comparisons draw us close: The influence of leader-member exchange dyadic comparison on coworker exchange

Members compare their differential leader-member exchanges (LMXs) to understand the triadic relationship (Member A, Member B, and the common leader); this will affect how members interact. Prior research based on balance theory, assuming that the two members have a consensus on the structure of the triadic relationship, to argue that, when Member A perceives their LMX to be lower than that of Member B, such a LMX imbalance would drive Member A interact negatively with Member B. Comparison of LMX, however, reflects one’s subjective perception which may not be shared by the other. Therefore, we draw on social comparison theory to examine both members’ comparisons of LMX simultaneously and suggest that, when they both perceive the other’s LMX as better than their own, they may engage more in affiliative behaviors and develop a higher-quality coworker exchange (CWX). The results of two studies consistently supported these hypotheses. This research extends our understanding of LMX in triadic relations and demonstrates that mismatched perceptions of LMX dyadic comparison between two members (i.e., both perceive a LMX imbalance) could motivate members to develop a positive relationship.
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