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Why amplifying colleagues’ voices at work benefits us all

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

Being able to speak up at work has numerous benefits, both for the individuals concerned and their teams and, of course, the wider organization. Recent research1 from New York University highlights how frequently this doesn’t occur, however.

The researchers sat in on around 80 team meetings to explore the dynamics of who speaks up, whose ideas get listened to, and so on.  The study found that not only did ideas often get overlooked, but they often got falsely attributed to others when they were picked up at a later date.

This was particularly problematic for people of color, women, and other minority groups, as they were especially likely to have their ideas dismissed or their contributions spoke over.

Being heard

In the past, people have attempted to overcome this by working together to amplify the ideas of fellow minority groups so that collectively they’re stronger.  This process of amplification was highlighted in a recent paper2 from the Saunders School of Business at Rochester Institute of Technology, as the researchers set out to understand how the approach works in terms of framing the idea, the contributor, and the role of minorities in any group.

The answer to all of these questions appears to be a resounding yes. In one experiment where a team met to discuss a fall in performance, one individual voiced an idea to improve the team’s performance that was ignored by a second team member. Some of the volunteers were in a scenario where a third team member contributed their own idea, others in a scenario where the third person stayed quiet, and others in a scenario where the third person endorsed the original idea.

After the experiment, the volunteers were asked their opinion on the originator of the original idea.  Consistently, when that person’s idea was amplified, they thought better not only of the person’s idea but the person as well.  What’s more, the person doing the amplifying was also regarded as having higher status, even than when they contributed their own idea.

Lifting up

The experiment clearly shows that amplifying not only helps the originator of the idea but the person doing the amplifying too.  The researchers then tweaked the experiment to test whether amplification is useful for those who might ordinarily get brushed aside in meetings, ie those who have little status or are otherwise underrepresented in the group.

The researchers found that when people focus on the problem with their contribution rather than the solution, they’re viewed as having less status.  However, even when people have initially been viewed this way, amplification was shown to help them regain their status.  What’s more, the amplifier was not shown to suffer any for speaking up for someone perceived to have low status either, as they benefited just as before.

The researchers also played around with the gender of group participants to see if amplification worked as well for women as it did for men.  The experiment demonstrated women amplifying men, men, amplifying women, men amplifying men, and women amplifying other women.

The results show that amplification benefits everyone, regardless of gender, with both the amplifier and the amplified receiving a status boost regardless of their respective genders.  It’s a finding that the researchers believe shows how amplification can be used to improve equity and inclusion in teams and organizations, especially if women amplify other women as both benefit from a boost in their status.

Working in the wild

The team then worked with a nonprofit organization that reported that morale was low in their team and that various people thought they weren’t being heard.  It provided the researchers with an opportunity to test if the same results would emerge in a real-life setting as they did in the experimental environment.

In total, 22 employees were identified as not being heard at work, and they were given a short 17-minute training session to explain how to effectively amplify before being encouraged to try it.  The remaining 75 people in the organization were not told about the intervention.

A survey was sent around the organization both before and after the intervention to test opinions about both coworkers and the organization as a whole.  The results reveal that the real-life setting replicated the experimental setting entirely, with the employees given the amplification training seeing a boost in their status after just two weeks, whereas their colleagues stayed at the same level.

“Our research demonstrates that peers may be an overlooked resource: voicers attain higher status when a peer amplifies their voice.” the researchers conclude. “Furthermore, our mediation results suggest that this happens because voicers’ contributions are percieved to be higher quality when the contributions are amplified. Importantly, amplifiers benefit as well, attaining higher status than if they stayed quiet, promoted their own ideas, or even suggested new ideas.”

Article source: Why Amplifying Colleagues’ Voices At Work Benefits Us All.

Header image source: iStock.

References:

  1. Satterstrom, P., Kerrissey, M., & DiBenigno, J. (2021). The voice cultivation process: How team members can help upward voice live on to implementation. Administrative Science Quarterly, 66(2), 380-425.
  2. Bain, K., Kreps, T. A., Meikle, N. L., & Tenney, E. R. (2021). Amplifying Voice in Organizations. Academy of Management Journal, DOI: 10.5465/amj.2018.0621

Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and Work.com, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.

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