Dialectic, contradiction, or double bind? Analyzing and theorizing employee reactions to organizational tension

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

159 Scopus citations


Drawing from qualitative data gathered at two correctional facilities, this paper empirically illustrates employee reactions to organizational contradictions in a total institution and advances a theoretical model positing that organizational tensions may be framed as complementary dialectics, simple contradictions, or pragmatic paradoxes - each accompanied by attendant organizational and personal ramifications. The analysis suggests that organizations can create structures in which employees are more likely to make sense of organizational contradictions in healthy ways and avoid the debilitating reactions associated with double binds. Specifically, through metacommunication about organizational tensions (for instance, manifest in role play enactment of contradictory occupational goals), employees are better able to understand the paradoxes that mark work life and make sense of them in emotionally healthy ways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-146
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Applied Communication Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 2004



  • Burnout
  • Contradiction
  • Correctional Facility
  • Double Bind
  • Emotion
  • Gender
  • Paradox
  • Total Institution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics

Cite this