Practical implications: assisting observers to make informed judgments
In this chapter, we have emphasized that observers of ostracism have a highly important role. Ostracism is very painful and threatening for targets, but it has repeatedly been shown that social support can buffer the negative impact that ostracism inflicts on an individual’s well-being (Rudert, Janke, & Greifeneder, 2017; Teng & Chen, 2012; Timeo et al., 2019; Zhou & Gao, 2008). As a result, developing interventions that aim at raising awareness towards ostracism and assist observers’ in making more informed moral judgments might be highly fruitful. Such interventions could be implemented in communication and social skill trainings or workshops, for students in the classroom or employees in the workplace, but also in the training of individuals who are dealing with ostracism and exclusion in professional contexts (e.g., teachers, counselors, conflict mediators, HR employees).
In general, the aim of these interventions should be twofold: First, participants in these trainings should be sensitized to the negative consequences of ostracism, about how easily an individual can ostracize another person involuntarily, and the important difference that even one supportive or friendly person can make for an ostracized target (Rudert, Hales et al., 2017; Timeo et al., 2019). Williams and Nida (2014) have made several suggestions, such as to use video material to demonstrate the consequences of ostracism, and to teach individuals to be intentionally inclusive whenever possible. Second, participants should be made aware of the possibility that their judgment of a specific situation may become distorted by stereotypical perceptions about ostracism situations and ostracizers. As a consequence, the respective program should encourage participants to, whenever possible, seek out more information and carefully question the history that precedes an ostracism episode before making a moral judgment and acting upon it. Third, individuals should be made aware that even if the target has committed a norm violation, punitive ostracism might still not be the most productive way to deal with the incident (see also Robinson & Schabram, 2019; Tauber, 2019). After all, ostracism may create a negative climate within an organization, and once ostracized, an excluded target often has limited possibilities to improve his or her behavior. Individuals could thus be trained in alternative solutions, such as mediational techniques and conflict management.
To have a maximum effectiveness, such ostracism awareness trainings should ideally be implemented within organizational cultures that emphasize inclusion as an important norm. For instance, further elements such as peer mentoring, an emphasized common identity, and joint social activities can complement trainings (Rudert & Greifeneder, 2017). Moreover, inclusionary acts of individuals may be specifically highlighted and acknowledged by the organization (Williams & Nida, 2014). Taken together, the suggested measures have the potential to improve individuals’ awareness and moral judgments about ostracism, which in an ideal case would positively affect the general social climate within their respective organizations, as well as in their everyday life.
Observers attribute ostracism situations in different ways, and these attributions will substantially affect observers’ evaluations (and eventually their behavior) towards targets and sources of ostracism. However, these moral judgments are prone to many influences, including observers’ knowledge about the situation and social norms; heuristics based on similarities or facial characteristics; and considerations about the environment and possible consequences for the observers themselves. As a result, further research on observers and how they perceive and interpret ostracism situations is needed, in order to create interventions that help observers make informed moral judgments.