An Idaho professor’s study says loudmouths can hinder problem-solving

Teams suffer when their quieter members get short shrift, an Idaho researcher says.

FROM A NEWS RELEASEOctober 29, 2013 

A study about the effects of “loudmouths” in groups, conducted by researchers from Idaho State University and the University of Utah, suggests that managers should lend an ear to the introverted.

Alex Bolinger, assistant professor in the ISU Management Department, worked with his former dissertation adviser from the University of Utah, Bryan Bonner, on the study, “Separating the Confident from the Correct.”

When confident or extraverted individuals dominate group conversations, they often leave out quieter group members who may have valuable knowledge that they don’t get a chance to share, the researchers say.

Bolinger said he and Bonner study how members of groups and teams work together to solve problems. During their research, they saw that many groups lack an organized process, instead launching right into problem-solving instead of creating a strategy.

Most groups don’t take the time to establish which group members have the best knowledge or resources to solve a particular problem, leaving a wide-open space for outgoing members to take over the process.

Although many people assume that having the confidence to take over a group’s discussion means that person is the most knowledgeable about the conversation topic, Bonner and Bolinger’s study shows that is not the case.

“It might be the more introverted, quiet person who has the key information to help the group,” Bolinger says. “But a lot of groups don’t leverage that person’s knowledge. They never give that person any airtime.”

Bolinger suggests that groups can make better use of their quieter but equally capable team members by setting aside a few minutes at the start of a group discussion to establish who knows what.

“A lot of people don’t like working in groups very much,” he says. “Part of the problem is that most groups just jump into the task without talking about how the discussion should be structured. So you end up having one or two people who dominate the conversation. The other members feel left out, and the result is sub-optimal.”

In his Organizational Behavior classes, Bolinger teaches students about how to discuss decision-making to optimize their time working in groups.

“We talk all the time about discussing the process before beginning the task,” he says. “I think that if more groups did that, it would improve the quality of decisions, and I think fewer people would be uneasy about working in groups.”

The study was scheduled to be published in the November issue of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

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