Most previous research on workplace mistreatment has proceeded under the assumption that the various forms of mistreatment are uniformly perceived as negative by recipients. Abusive supervision is one form of mistreatment that has rarely ever been examined through a lens of ambiguity. The question many researchers have failed to ask is whether it is reality that every questionable act labeled as abusive is truly abuse, or such perceptions vary across individuals.
And for the individuals perceiving the act (the target), what individual differences are influencing their judgement? The purpose of the study was to explore the influence of individual differences on the perception of abusive supervision in the workplace. The study required 134 participants to fill out a series of questionnaires based on their personality traits. They also read a series of 15 vignettes/scenarios based on Tepper’s abusive supervision scale to decide whether they found the behavior highlighted to be abusive or not abusive. The results indicated that although no significant correlations were present for overall abuse, the traits of Machiavellianism and Narcissism did show to be predictors of overt abuse, and conscientiousness was a predictor of covert abuse. Variability in perceptions of the individual vignettes were also found among each trait. In addition, the means of overall, overt, and covert abuse all partially supported the notion that abusive acts can be ambiguous.