Studies have usually focused on the traits of an individual that make him or her more likely to voice "ideas, suggestions, concerns, or opinions intended to improve organizational or unit functions." A study article by researchers at New York Univ. and the Indian School of Business went on to offer one example: "Voice challenges current processes and decisions, and, as a result, carries some risk to the actor." Previous studies have also focused on people speaking up against a boss. This study looked instead at traits of the person's work group and their willingness to speak up within the group.
The authors theorized that group culture had an impact beyond the individual worker's traits. For instance, they refer to a 2000 paper in which researchers coined the term "climate of silence" to indicate "widely shared beliefs that speaking up with suggestions or information about problems is futile and dangerous." They also looked at positive behaviors. On the survey they gave group leaders to rate each group member, these included:
They surveyed 253 engineers in 42 work groups in a division of an Indian chemical company. Separately, the engineers' leaders were surveyed to rate the "voice" behaviors of each worker. The engineers were asked about their own attitudes, such as how close they felt to the group and how satisfied they were with it. They were also asked how they thought other members as a group felt about speaking up, what the researchers called "group voice climate."
Climate appeared to have a significant impact on willingness to speak up. If the group felt it was safe, members were more likely to do so in group settings. A member's sense of connection to the group and satisfaction with it were related to voice behaviors, as found in previous studies. But the group climate had a separate, added effect. For example, among those who felt the highest connection to their group, the average voice rating was around a 4 on a 7-point scale if the group voice climate was bad. The rating rose to the top of the scale if the climate was good.
"Hence, group leaders or members who wish to elicit more voice need to ensure that their group's climate is one in which members collectively feel confident that they can voice successfully and that doing so will not be punished or ignored," the authors write.
Source: Morrison, E.W., S. Wheeler-Smith, and D. Kamdar (2011), "Speaking Up in Groups: A Cross-Level Study of Group Voice Climate and Voice," Journal of Applied Psychology 96(1):183.