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How to succeed in business – speak up or shut up?

Knowing when to speak up or shut up in the workplace is usually seen as more of an art than a science. 

Not surprisingly, the better practitioners of the art have prospered more than those who remain too quiet or suffer from "foot in mouth" disease.

Now, in a recent study, the Yale School of Management has put some science around the phenomenon.

In short, the study revealed that women who "talk too much" were seen as less competent in an office environment, as well as "domineering" and "presumptuous", whereas men who projected a sense of power and authority when voicing their opinions were handed more authority.

The study author and organisational behaviour expert Professor Virginia Brescoll observed that both men and women today retain strong gender stereotypes and tended to want to hand less responsibility to a female dominating a meeting at work.

The 156 study participants were asked to read stories about fictional CEOs, with each secretly classified as a talkative man, quiet man, talkative woman or quiet woman.  They were asked to rate each of the story subjects on a seven-point scale – the results were published in Administrative Science Quarterly and the talkative men were awarded 5.64, the quiet men 5.11, the quiet women 5.62 and the opiniated women 4.83.

A related study focusing on male and female US Senators found similar results.

Sydney University gender and cultural studies lecturer Carina Gardland pointed to the undue focus on the voice and dress sense of prominent female politicians such as Hilary Clinton and Julia Gillard. She observed, however, that representations of women were based on the historical lack of visible women in positions of power.

Professor Brescoll meanwhile cautions women not to change their style to fit the perceptions of others, indicating that the gender landscape at work is changing, with attitudes modernising as more and more women reach senior positions. Women now occupy around a third of all management positions in Australia.

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