Situation or Disposition? Wise Reasoning in Powerlessness: Power Divides and Rejection Sensitivity in Social Conflict
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Interpersonal conflict is full of uncertainty. How does one manage this uncertainty adaptively? Wisdom scholars propose wise reasoning is crucial to the successful management of uncertainty, but little work has actually examined the practical implications of this proposition. Adopting an interdependence theory (Kelley & Thibaut, 1978; Thibaut & Kelley, 1959) framework, three studies examined the impact of power divides and rejection sensitivity on people’s wise reasoning tendencies in an interpersonal conflict. Participants were randomly assigned a low- or high-power position in a hypothetical workplace conflict that centered on a coworker with unrealistic expectations or who was overly critical. Participants completed measures of wise reasoning (Brienza, Grossmann, & Bobocel, 2016) and rejection sensitivity (Berenson et al., 2009). Results replicated across all three studies: lacking power increased wise reasoning tendencies among participants who were low in rejection sensitivity. For powerholders, being low in rejection sensitivity did not boost their wise reasoning tendencies. The current research suggests that—despite common assumptions that the powerful are highly competent and produce better outcomes—the powerless tend to be wiser reasoners in the domain of interpersonal conflict, unless they are undermined by worry about and expectations of rejection.