Thirty-one-year-old Robert Murphy has the best intentions to participate in team meetings, but when it’s “game time,” he chokes. An online marketing representative, Robert cannot be criticized for lack of preparation. After being invited to a business meeting with six of his coworkers and his supervisor, Robert began doing his research on the meeting’s subject matter. He compiled notes and arranged them neatly. As soon as the meeting began, however, “I just sat there like a lump, fixated on the fact
that I was quiet.” The entire meeting passed without Robert contributing a word. Robert is certainly not the first person to fail to speak up during meetings, and he won’t be the last. While some silent employees may not have any new ideas to contribute, the highly intelligent also freeze. One study found that if we believe our peers are smarter, we experience anxiety that temporarily blocks our ability to think effectively. In other words, worrying about what the group thinks of you makes you dumber. The study also found the effect was worse for women, perhaps because they can be more
socially attuned to what others may think. In other cases, failing to speak up may be attributed
to personality. While the extraverted tend to be assertive and assured in group settings, the more introverted prefer to collect their thoughts before speaking—if they speak at all. But again, even those who are extraverted can remain quiet, especially when they feel they cannot contribute. You may be wondering whether it is important for everyone to speak up. Collaboration (the word comes from “laboring together” in Latin) is at the heart of organizational transformation, so yes, the more participation, the more likely the collaboration will result in higher trust, increased productivity, and enhanced creativity. Furthermore, collaboration works best when individuals know their ideas are taken seriously. The message from the research is clear: give free speech a try!
10-13. Why are extroverts more likely to speak in a meeting than introverts? Do they have better things to say?
10-14. Is it really important that everyone has input in meetings?
10-15. Do you feel that your peers are quicker and smarter than you? Does this mean you fail to contribute to discussions? How can you reverse this?
Sources: E. Bernstein, “Speaking Up Is Hard to Do: Researchers Explain Why,” The Wall Street Journal, February 7, 2012, D1; M. Kashtan, “Want Teamwork? Promote Free Speech,” The New York Times, April 13, 2014, 8; and H. Leroy et al., “Behavioral Integrity for Safety, Priority of Safety, Psychological Safety, and Patient Safety: A Team-Level Study,” Journal of Applied Psychology (November 2012):