Network Research Highlight: Respect Leads to Voice

By: Elizabeth Moraff

Ever been encouraged to speak up? Work Science Center Network Member Sharon K. Parker recently published a study with Thomas Ng and Dennis Hsu in the Journal of Management that investigates some factors that influence why an employee may speak up or not. Parker and her collaborators looked at two factors that could influence voice, or change-oriented communication intended to advance an organization’s interests. In particular, they studied the impact of received respect as a social factor that could encourage employees to heighten their voice at work.

The researchers proposed that employees who received more respect at work would be more likely to use their voice. They noted that respect indicates social status and competence, and would likely encourage employees to speak up more by increasing their positive affect and belief that they could influence and implement change. To test this idea, they manipulated participants’ sense of how much their coworkers respected them and measured their subsequent voice behaviors. Confirming their supposition, employees were much more likely to engage in voice when they perceived their peers respected them. Upon further analysis, Parker and her colleagues discovered that positive affect, feeling good and competent, did mediate the relationship. Contrary to expectations, though, they did not find any evidence that an employees control beliefs, their idea that they could create change and influence the organization, exerted any effect on voice.

After establishing the connection between respect and voice, the researchers scrutinized a potential predictor of respect — perspective taking. Colloquially, perspective-taking could be called empathy, as it refers to the ability to take on and imagine the perspective of others. It constitutes a significant relational skill. The researchers suggested that people who engaged in more perspective-taking would be more likely to receive respect from their employees, which could in turn augment their voice. They ran a second experiment in which they manipulated perspective-taking, and indeed found that people who employed more perspective-taking received more respect than those who used the tactic less. Parker’s work ends with some tangible suggestions for managers looking to increase voice in their companies. First, the paper suggests that companies should cultivate an atmosphere of respect to lay the groundwork for voice. Create an environment in which employees feel that others respect them, and they will be more likely to speak up. Secondly, the researchers advise coaxing more perspective-taking behaviors at work. These perspective-taking skills will boost coworkers’ mutual respect, which can in turn activate positive affect, voice, and all of the innovation that voice can provide.

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