Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Does Speaking Up Help or Harm Your Career?

Conventional wisdom, backed by plenty of painful examples, demonstrates that speaking up at work brings with it some serious risks. Some leaders do not appreciate dissent and they have been known to shoot the messenger who brings bad news. In contrast, a new study looks at how speaking up might have some beneficial effects for a person's career. 

Mona Weiss and Elizabeth Morrison have published a paper titled, "Speaking up and moving up: How voice can enhance employees' social status." In this article, they provide experimental evidence that voice has some positive effects for workers. They write:

Voice, by constructively challenging the status quo, is one of the primary means by which employees can help their organizations innovate and adapt. Yet it is widely viewed as a risky activity for employees. The risks cannot be denied—supervisors and peers are not always receptive to voice and may respond negatively. However, drawing from theories of status attainment and the agency‐communion framework of interpersonal judgment, we have argued and shown that when it comes to social status, voice has positive implications for employees.

In our survey study, we found that more frequent voice behavior was associated with higher status ratings from coworkers. In our two experiments, we found that employees who raised a concern or offered an opinion that challenged the views of a superior were ascribed higher social status than those who did not.

Naturally, speaking up in a constructive manner is key. Dysfunctional conflict and dissent can be harmful. Moreover, we also have to be mindful that certain leaders, and certain organizational cultures, may not be open to dissenting views. Thus, speaking up can have negative effects in those particular situations. The study does show, however, that others may appreciate someone who speaks up in a constructive and thoughtful manner, thereby actually helping an individual's career prospects.

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