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Why equality in speaking is important to workplace culture

Is the guy who always talks really smarter?

Don't you just hate those people who don't stop talking? If you’re one of them, stop reading now.


For the rest of you-- you know who I’m referring to. In business school, their hands were perma-raised, ready to blurt out an instinctive, ill-thought out answer to whatever the lecturer asked. In law school, they were the only ones who never got cold called because even the professor had had enough.


They’re arrogant and commanding. They’re not as well-prepared as we are (with our careful annotations and pre-rehearsed answers), but somehow they always have the confidence to pull it off.


And it does seem like our society is built to favor these extroverted, assertive personality types. From the classroom to the boardroom, most environments favor extroverts. The most important traits to succeed are confidence, speaking up, being present, and being liked.


But when it comes down to it, does your classmate with the perpetual arm twitch actually perform better in the real world? In the workplace, does speaking time correlate with leadership ability?



It turns out-- not really. Research shows no correlation between confidence in speaking, and competence in managing or leading.

So what does that mean? It turns out, we’re leaving people behind. About ⅓ of adults in America are classified as introverts. They are less likely to speak up in meetings, and less likely to voice contradictory opinions or go against a group decision. And it’s not just introverts, studies have also shown that women and minorities are less likely to speak up in group settings.

That leaves us with a situation in which a significant proportion of our colleagues and employees are under-utilized. Imagine the ideas that we’re missing out on from these colleagues! Their engagement and productivity suffers, and they are at risk to become discouraged or disempowered- which is, as every manager knows, a disaster.

And it’s bad for business too; teams with less turn-taking are lower-performing when compared to teams with high levels of turn-taking. Studies show that the best teams share two important aspects. First, they respect one another’s emotions. Second, they are mindful that all members should contribute to the conversation equally. Regardless of who is in a team, how the team’s members interact with one another is most predictive of their success and innovation.

Practical Applications

With this in mind, what should we do? How can we adjust our educational and professional environments to re-integrate the quieter and more thoughtful among us? How can we unlock the thoughts, ideas, and potential of our introverted colleagues, siblings, friends, and partners?

Let’s explore three tips for teachers, managers, and team leaders to encourage turn-taking in the workplace:

1. Acknowledge your own fallibility. Make sure your teammates see you as a person.

  • When you announce a decision, do not view it as final. Invite opinions and criticism. Occasionally change your stance in response to feedback from others.
  • Model vulnerability; share your personal perspective on work and failures with your teammates
  • Talk to your teammates about their lives outside of work, this rapport will help develop them trust in you

2. Be Present. This will help you notice and encourage when less-talkative team members are trying to contribute.

  • Respond verbally to show engagement (“That makes sense. Tell us more.”)
  • Be aware of your body language; make sure to lean towards or face the person speaking
  • Make eye contact to show connection and active listening
  • Put away laptops, do not allow side conversations.

3. Solicit input, opinions, and feedback.

  • Ask people what they think. Make sure to leave an opening for people who did not volunteer. “Any other ideas?” “Before we move on, did anyone else have something they wanted to add?”

If you try implementing the above, let us know how it works out for you! We’re welcome to feedback and refinement.

Nicole Abi-Esber

Social Science Researcher

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