A great deal of research shows that speaking up at work isn’t a matter of personality. Introverts and extroverts may address questionable behaviors or decisions in roughly equal amounts. Nor is it a matter of concern. People who “see something” don’t always “say something,” even if they know they should.
In fact, research suggests speaking up depends on a concept called social threat. Others may call it psychological safety, or the comfort to speak up. Each of these terms captures the same general idea: To get people to find their voice, leaders should strive to create a culture where speaking up is manageable for the speaker and non-threatening for the person being spoken to.
The NeuroLeadership Institute recently explored these two related habits in a piece for Strategy + Business.
A key takeaway from the growing body of evidence around voice is that human brains are extremely sensitive to threat. When others lead us to feel excluded, uncertain, or lower status, our cognitive function suffers. It helps explain why difficult situations make us feel so foggy-headed. We can’t think straight because our brains divert resources toward our fight or flight response.
Speaking up makes us uneasy because it often activates that threat state. The speaker may worry about the consequences of speaking up, and the recipient — a leader or colleague — may feel attacked for the ideas or actions.
To learn how to override these threat states in practice, continue reading “Create a workplace where everyone feels comfortable speaking up.”