Goodness Report, News

Harvard Business Review: Amplifying Your Colleagues’ Voices Benefits Everyone

June 17, 2021

By Kristin Bain, Tamar A. Kreps, Nathan L. Meikle, and Elizabeth R. Tenney, Harvard Business Review

 

Most of us have had the frustrating experience of being in a group that overlooked certain people’s ideas or didn’t give credit to the right person. In a recent study documenting this phenomenon, researchers sat in on 78 team meetings to see what happened to ideas — and the group members who contributed them — over time. They found that the group frequently overlooked ideas that members suggested, and sometimes revisited ideas later but gave credit to the wrong people. These findings are of particular concern to women, people of color, and members of other underrepresented groups, all of whom are especially likely to be dismissed or spoken over.

Some groups have found creative ways to address this problem. For example, in 2016, female staffers in the Obama administration believed that their contributions had less impact than those of their male peers. To remedy this, they decided to deliberately call more attention to one another’s ideas in meetings, making sure to give due credit. The staffers reported that using this strategy reduced their frustration and increased their influence.

The Obama staffers’ solution is an example of amplification, which is a public endorsement of someone’s idea with proper attribution of credit. We’ve focused on this behavior in our research and have recently published our findings in the Academy of Management Journal.

In our research, we set out to answer three main questions. First, does amplifying someone make their contribution seem better? Second, does amplifying someone else make the amplifier (the person doing the amplifying) look good, too? And third, can groups use amplification to help underrepresented voices be heard?

In three studies involving more than 2,760 participants in the U.S., we found that the answer to all three questions is yes. Here’s how it works.

Amplifiers lift up voicers’ status — and their own

In our first two studies, we used experiments to investigate whether amplification makes the voiced idea seem better, and whether it leads to status attainment for the voicer (i.e., the person with the idea) and the responder (i.e., the amplifier). We presented each participant with a scenario to read about a sales team, and described the team’s recent performance as low. In the scenario, the team was meeting to discuss the performance decline; a team member voiced an idea to improve performance; and then, in an all-too-familiar occurrence, a second team member ignored the good idea, moving right past it.

In the key part of the experiment, we varied what happened next: A third team member either contributed their own new idea, stayed quiet, or amplified by endorsing the original voicer’s idea and making sure to give them credit.

Afterward, we asked participants what they thought about each of the team members who had spoken and each of the ideas they had suggested. We found the same pattern of results in both studies. Just as we expected, participants thought the voicer’s idea was better when the third team member amplified it, and they thought that the voicer was more influential and high-status in the group. Furthermore, the third group member looked more high-status when they amplified, even compared to suggesting their own additional idea.

The lesson here seems clear: When you lift up a teammate by amplifying their idea, you can lift yourself up, too.

Amplifying less-heard voices helps overcome status deficits

Amplification may help in general, but we wanted to make sure it specifically helped contributors and ideas that might also receive harsher scrutiny if thrust into the spotlight. Our findings supported the idea that amplification helps everybody — and, therefore, that amplifying underrepresented or lower-status employees can help them.

In our first study, we varied whether the voicer’s contribution was stated in a way that focused on the improvement they were suggesting or the problem they were trying to solve. Past research has found that people judge a voicer more negatively when they use problem-focused language. Consistent with those findings, we found that participants rated voicers as lower status when they focused on the problem rather than the solution. However, amplification helped these problem-focused voicers, too: They started off lower status, but amplification helped them catch up. And the group member who amplified them benefited just as much, too, and wasn’t brought down by being associated with the challenging framing.

Of course, some people find it harder to attain status in groups not because of what they say but simply because of who they are. If amplification can be used to promote equity in groups, then it must be effective for lifting up any employee, not just the ones who already enjoy high status. In our second experiment, we varied the genders of the group members in the meeting and tested whether the effect of amplification was different for men versus women.

Before participants read about the meeting, we “introduced” them to the group members by providing photographs of them and background information about their performance. We also reinforced their gender by providing audio recordings of their comments in the meeting, not just a transcript. Then we tested what happened when women amplified other women, when women amplified men, and when men amplified women. We compared these results to when there was no amplification, when men amplified other men, or when men or women gave new ideas. (We also looked at what happened when men or women promoted their own ideas, something that women are sometimes advised to do in order to increase their status. In our study, nobody, regardless of their gender, looked good if they self-promoted.)

What we found mirrored our first finding on different types of voice: Amplification was beneficial for everyone. Voicers who were amplified looked high-status compared to voicers who weren’t amplified, whether they were men or women. And teammates who amplified others looked high-status, too, compared to those who responded in any other way, whether they were men or women.

These findings suggest that women — and potentially members of other groups underrepresented in organizations, particularly at the highest levels — can use amplification to improve equity and inclusion. When a woman amplifies a woman, two women benefit: both the one whose contribution now has a vocal supporter, and the one who looks magnanimous and generous for recognizing a colleague.

Training low-status employees works in a real organization

Our results were exciting, but they were all based on experiments in which participants read about a fictional organization’s meeting. What about a real organization that was having problems with all employees getting heard? We wanted to test whether we could train low-status employees to amplify and whether this would increase their influence.

Our research team connected with a nonprofit organization whose director felt that employee morale was low and some employees were not being heard by their teams. We approached 22 employees the director identified as lacking due influence and showed them a 17-minute training that explained how to amplify and encouraged them to try it. (The other 75 employees in the organization were not told that any intervention was occurring.) Then we gave them two weeks to amplify one another. Everyone in the organization completed surveys about their coworkers and the organization as a whole, both before and after the intervention.

Our results confirmed that what we had observed in the scenario studies could also happen in real organizations. After two weeks, employees in the amplification training group were rated by their colleagues as higher status than before. Their fellow employees, who had not completed the training, were rated the same as before.

This study confirmed, in a real organization, that learning to amplify colleagues could be a simple and practical way to help every employee’s voice be heard.

A promising area for future investigation

Our research raises more intriguing questions about amplification. One important topic is how amplification affects the group as a whole. If Bill amplifies Laura, Bill and Laura may both get a status boost — and we suspect the other employees in the room, and the organization as a whole, may benefit in other ways. Perhaps seeing one colleague amplify another signals to other employees that the organization is a psychologically safe and welcoming environment in which to participate. Supporting this idea, employees in our nonprofit sample rated their teams more favorably after the amplification period than they did before — even if they were not involved in the intervention. More research is needed to elucidate why this might happen, and in general how amplification affects the group as a whole.

A second question is how amplification works when the people involved have different types of relationships and histories. We suspect amplification could be an especially powerful technique for creating unity between groups with a history of competition or hostility when there is amplification across groups. But it is also possible that amplification could backfire, for example, if amplifying within a subgroup is seen as competitive by an opposing subgroup.

Thus far, our findings suggest that amplification could be a powerful tool for both managers and employees. For managers who see that some of their employees are not being duly heard, training those individuals to amplify one another could help boost their standing. And for employees who are wondering how to improve their own influence without seeming selfish, we say: amplify. Do that, and you can not only help your organization recognize teammates whose ideas might be getting overlooked but also benefit yourself.

Source: https://hbr.org/2021/06/research-amplifying-your-colleagues-voices-benefits-everyone?ab=hero-subleft-1

Subscribe to the

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.