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From inconsistency to hypocrisy: When does “saying one thing but doing another” invite condemnation?


Research in Organizational Behavior


Organisational Behaviour

Authors / Editors

Effron D A;O'Connor K;Leroy H;Lucas B J


Publication Year



It is not always possible for leaders, teams, and organizations to practice what they preach. Misalignment between words and deeds can invite harsh interpersonal consequences, such as distrust and moral condemnation, which have negative knock-on effects throughout organizations. Yet the interpersonal consequences of such misalignment are not always severe, and are sometimes even positive. This paper presents a new model of when and why audiences respond negatively to those who “say one thing but do another.” We propose that audiences react negatively if they (a) perceive a high degree of misalignment (i.e., perceive low “behavioral integrity”), and (b) interpret such misalignment as a claim to an undeserved moral benefit (i.e., interpret it as hypocrisy). Our model integrates disparate research findings about factors that influence how audiences react to misalignment, and it clarifies conceptual confusion surrounding word-deed misalignment, behavioral integrity, and hypocrisy. We discuss how our model can inform unanswered questions, such as why people fail to practice what they preach despite the risk of negative consequences. Finally, we consider practical implications for leaders, proposing that anticipating and managing the consequences of misalignment will be more effective than trying to avoid it altogether.


Inconsistency; Misalignment; Behavioral integrity; Hypocrisy; Morality; Ethics; Social cognition

Available on ECCH


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