Sensemaking and Negative Emotion Sharing: Perceived Listener Reactions as Interpersonal Cues Driving Workplace Outcomes


Emotions are a ubiquitous part of the workplace, and research on emotion sharing suggests that people often seek out others to express and share their emotions, in particular their negative emotions. Drawing from theory on sensemaking within organizations, we argue that employee perceptions of listener responses to negative emotion/stressful-event sharing have a significant impact on how included employees feel with their peers and their organization-based self-esteem. If employees perceive that others have responded positively to their sharing of negative emotions, they will experience positive inclusion and esteem beliefs and seek to maintain these positive views through socially attached attitudes (i.e., greater commitment and lower turnover intentions). However, if employees perceive listeners have responded negatively, inclusion, esteem, and socially attached attitudes will suffer. Across two studies, we found that employees' perceptions that others tended to respond to them in a positive manner (e.g., by being supportive and validating the employees' perspective) predicted the extent to which employees felt included, and experienced positive organization-based self-esteem. In turn, this translated into increased organizational commitment and decreased turnover intentions. In contrast, perceived negative listener reactions (e.g., responding in a critical or disengaged manner) threatened these outcomes. Our second study suggested that these effects are more driven by identity (i.e., esteem)-related processes than by generalized perceptions of social support, and that these effects are stronger for those with lower levels of communion striving.


Psychological Science

Keywords and Phrases

Emotion sharing; Employee attitudes; Inclusion; Listener reactions; Organization-based self-esteem; Sensemaking; Social support

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

0889-3268; 1573-353X

Document Type

Article - Journal

Document Version


File Type





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Publication Date

01 Jun 2021