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Speak up—or forever fall behind

A new study says outspoken people are judged as more competent—even if they're not.
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May 19, 2009
By dvm360.com staff
Speak up on the job—or be judged as incompetent. That’s the advice of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. A new study finds that people who act dominantly are judged as leaders and better at their jobs even if actually aren’t.

In the study, 68 unacquainted students were divided into 17 same-gender groups. The groups had 45 minutes to design a mock nonprofit environmental organization or for-profit Web site. The winning team would receive a $400 prize. Researchers videotaped the groups, and independent observers judged the effectiveness of the four-person teams. What the researchers found was surprising. Observers who watched the on-screen activity said the team members with more talkative, dominant personalities were more intelligent, dependable, and disciplined. Those who were less outspoken were called conventional or uncreative.

But were these outspoken leaders just more competent? No. In the second round of the experiment, the teams were asked to solve computational problems from old standardized tests. When asked to pick the most competent leaders of the teams, observers picked the most dominant, outspoken team members—even when those team members didn’t answer problems correctly. These dominant personalities just answered more questions out loud than the other team members.

Researchers say their findings are important life for two reasons. Managers may want to look beyond outspokenness and look into objective productivity when judging employees. And employees should consider speaking up to improve their managers’ perception of their value to the team.

The study was published in the February 2009 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.