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Study finds supportive voice better than challenging voice for teams

ANI | Updated: Dec 04, 2021 13:24 IST

Ames [US], December 4 (ANI): A new research has found that a supportive voice is more attractive than a challenging voice when choosing team members at work.
The research has been published in the 'Journal of Management'.
"What we say within a group, the ideas we suggest and the way we support others signals something about who we are to our co-workers. It can attract people to us or repel them," said Melissa Chamberlin, assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship at Iowa State University, and co-author of the paper.
Chamberlin and her research team demonstrated how two different ways of communicating work-related issues shaped reputations and affected the formation of teams to complete short-term projects. They found that people who use a "supportive voice," which fuels trust and cooperation, have a higher chance of being recruited to a team compared to those who use a more task-oriented "challenging voice."
Challenging voice pushed back against the status quo and offered ideas for improvement. While it had some downsides, such as perceived criticism or conflict, challenge voice tended to signal an employee's competence or expertise. Chamberlin said that managers, especially in dynamic and fast-paced industries, often value this communication behaviour as something that can help teams complete tasks efficiently and effectively.
"Supportive voice is still about speaking up in the workplace, but it's looking at what's going well in the group or team. It might defend the status quo by saying there's value in what the team is already doing," said Chamberlin.
Supportive voice signalled someone's approachability and trustworthiness. It fostered strong interpersonal relationships, which Chamberlin said affected a team's ability to communicate and coordinate efforts in order to reach goals.

To understand the effects of the two communication behaviours on team formation, the researchers collected data from a cohort of full-time, first-year Master of Business Administration students over a four-month period. The students were periodically assigned to different teams to complete projects and then asked to rate fellow team members' use of challenging and supportive voice, quality of work, reputation and trust. Near the end of the study, students were allowed to assemble into teams without any direction from the MBA office.
The study results revealed students who ranked high on challenging voice built a reputation for conducting high-quality work, but students preferred to work in teams with those who frequently used supportive voice. Chamberlin said the results were surprising.
"Because challenging voice is the predominant form of speaking up we encourage in classrooms and as managers, we thought it was going to be a strong driver of people selecting team members later. But as it turns out, this more supportive voice that helps establish relationships and a sense of trust amongst individuals in the group was more important," Chamberlin said.
The researchers pointed out that having both types of voice would be ideal, but between the two, supportive voice was a stronger driver of team formation.
Chamberlin said that the findings could help employees realize the way they speak up can have a strong effect on informal teaming up at a later point and help them move into leadership roles. As for managers, Chamberlin said the results could encourage them to foster and provide space for a more supportive voice by coaching this type of behaviour and rewarding employees who speak up supportively.
"There might be times that challenging voice reigns supreme but other situations where the supportive voice becomes more critical for a team," said Chamberlin.
"Supportive voices can keep teams together to make sure the work gets done," Chamberlin added.
Researchers from the University of Iowa, Binghamton University and the University of Georgia contributed to the paper. (ANI)