More Human Than Human: The Consequences of Positive Dehumanization

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While dehumanizing language, or comparison of humans to animals or machines, is commonplace in administrative rhetoric, there is little evidence of its consequences, particularly when used in its positive form, with intent to praise, rather than denigrate. Using a survey experiment, the authors provide respondents with an employee evaluation of a hypothetical employee that includes comments from a supervisor with treatment and experimental groups being exposed to different types of language. Results suggest that dehumanizing language can alter perceptions of employee competence, but it comes with a tradeoff related to perceptions of their personality. This raises questions about how administrative rhetoric creates images of individuals within organizations, in both positive and negative ways.