If You Want To Get Far In Your Career, Talk Less?

May 18, 2012  |  

Every office has a chatty Cathie whose non-stop talking is usually harmless enough that the gab is more of an annoyance than a problem. But if the Cathie’s of the professional world want to go far in their careers they may want to do one thing: zip it up.

According to a new study from Yale researchers that points out yet another double standard women have to contend with in the work place, it’s not necessarily just talking that’s a problem, it’s speaking up. While a man who is vocal in the work place is seen as a good leader, an extroverted woman who does the same is seen as being too aggressive and in some instances still “chatty.”

For the study, participants were asked to read a fictitious story about a CEO, described as either a talkative man, a talkative woman, a quiet man or a quiet woman, and then rate how they perceived their competency on a seven-point scale, with seven being the highest. Although the exact same narrative was given for both genders, the competency ratings were quite different. The competency of talkative male CEOs was a 5.64, on average, compared with 5.11 for quiet males. Talkative female CEOs, on the other hand, were seen as less capable, receiving a rating of 4.83 which was even less than quiet female CEOs, who received 5.62.

“When men talk a lot and they have power, people want to reward them either by hiring them, voting for them, or just giving them more power and responsibility at work,” Victoria Brescoll, the study’s author, told Business Insider. “But when women do it, they are seen as being too domineering, too presumptuous. Women perceive this, and that’s why they temper how much they talk.”

In an additional experiment, 206 participants were asked to imagine themselves in specific roles and through a series of questions, Brescoll concluded that the participants tend to think that “a female CEO who talked more than other CEOs is significantly less competent and less suitable for leadership than a male CEO who spoke for the same amount of time.”

The study gives two possible explanations for this finding:

“It may be that while men show a strong positive relationship between talking time and power, women show no such effect (or a much weaker one) for at least two reasons. The first stems from the different ways men and women approach leadership and power. Some research has found that women lead in a more democratic, non-hierarchical fashion than men, while men are more sensitive to and more comfortable with hierarchy and may behave in ways that reinforce their position in the hierarchy. In contrast, women may talk to establish and maintain relationships with others and therefore would be likely to speak for the same amount time as their counterparts, regardless of their power.

“An alternative explanation, which predicts the same interaction pattern, has to do with women’s potential fear of backlash. Further analysis revealed that only the high-power women adjusted their talking time over concerns of being disliked, perceived as “out of line” or controlling, and other reasons consistent with a fear of experiencing backlash.”

Sounds like the overall idea is a woman should know her place and not talk out of turn. What do you think about this finding?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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