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Are The Paths To Power Different For Women Than Men?

The paths to power for men and women are quite different. Talking a lot works for guys but doesn’t work for women.

Can we learn anything from how much you talk?

…how much an individual talks in interpersonal interactions is a key way in which we not only draw inferences about that person but also in how we interact with him or her. Moreover, interpersonal communication—whether verbal or nonverbal—has a direct impact on the way that status and power hierarchies are built, maintained, and changed.

The results:

Although past research has noted the importance of both power and gender for understanding volubility—the total amount of time spent talking—in organizations, to date, identifying the unique contributions of power and gender to volubility has been somewhat elusive. Using both naturalistic data sets and experiments, the present studies indicate that while power has a strong, positive effect on volubility for men, no such effect exists for women. Study 1 uses archival data to examine the relationship between the relative power of United States senators and their talking behavior on the Senate floor. Results indicate a strong positive relationship between power and volubility for male senators, but a non-significant relationship for female senators. Study 2 replicates this effect in an experimental setting by priming the concept of power and shows that though men primed with power talk more, women show no effect of power on volubility. Mediation analyses indicate that this difference is explained by women’s concern that being highly voluble will result in negative consequences (i.e., backlash). Study 3 shows that powerful women are in fact correct in assuming that they will incur backlash as a result of talking more than others—an effect that is observed among both male and female perceivers. Implications for the literatures on volubility, power, and previous studies of backlash are discussed.

This reminds me of what Susan Cain said in her TEDtalk, “There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”

Still curious? Here is the full study. Also check out why you need to work smarter, not harder.

(H/T Bob Sutton)

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