Type: Analysis
Pages: 4 | Words: 1084
Reading Time: 5 Minutes

In their article, Implicit Voice Theories: Taken-For-Granted Rules of Self-Censorship at Work, Detert and Edmonson analyse the role of implicit voice theories in the employees’ ability to speak up to their superiors. According to the scholars, implicit voice theories are the underlying assumptions and beliefs which prompt employees to consider speaking up as unsafe and remain silent in front of the management. In such a way, they presumably save themselves from facing their boss’s anger and the negative implications for their career as a result of their voice. Detert and Edmonson have pinned their research down to three questions. First, what are the particular implicit voice theories that most frequently occur in the hypothetical organization? Second, how to best measure the five most common implicit voice theories? And third, what are the effects of other control variables, apart from implicit voice theories, on workplace voice and silence?

Theoretical Framework of Implicit Voice Theories

The scholars construct their research drawing on two major strands of literature on the subject. One strand attempts to foresee the instances of speaking up in the organization. This approach has accumulated substantial data on differences among individuals, leadership styles, and other organizational antecedents of speaking up. The other strand of literature centres directly on the employee avoidance of speaking up. The scholars adopt these two approaches and yet shift their focus to the reasons for not speaking up. In their study, they pursue two main deterrents of voice at a workplace. First, employees may withhold important suggestions or improvements for the organization because of the fear that any ungrounded remark will be taken as an offence by the boss. And the second reason, which is the centrepiece of the argument, is the socially rooted, implicit theories that arguably influence an array of social behaviours, including organisational.

Existing research indicates that implicit theories are useful in allowing an individual to more easily navigate a complex web of social and organisational relationships. Such theories, or inherently held assumptions about how things work in social hierarchies, are developed from individual’s life experiences, both positive and negative. When faced with a new challenge, an individual consults these underlying beliefs, uses them to find the way out, or adjusts them to counter that challenge. Thereby, the confirming instances of the beliefs that have a negative character tend to leave a deeper print in the memory than the positive reinforcements, hence making silence preferred over voice in the organisational context. As the scholars infer, implicit voice theories force an individual to remain silent, because speaking up is laden with perceived social and career consequences. The scholars seem to suggest that such theories are especially distinct in upward communication with a higher-level authority, no matter in what organisation.

Research Design and Methodology

In order to address the mentioned research questions, Detert and Edmonson have carried out four studies with different, albeit complementary, objectives and methodology. Study 1 explores the reasons for the pervasive avoidance to speak up on the example of a large multinational corporation. Study 2 seeks to confirm the external validity of the implicit theories delineated by Study 1. Studies 3 and 4 attempt to answer the second and third research questions by enhancing measures of the five implicit voice theories from the previous two studies. The researchers have used several distinct research designs and statistical methods in collecting and analysing the data. The sample population included people with extensive organisational experience, as well as current or former college students with less substantial experience. Such stratification allowed researchers to capture probable sources of implicit voice theories as related to social vs. organisational origins. As the primary data collection method, the authors used face-to-face interviews with randomly selected people from each institution they worked with. In such a way, they uncovered and refined five implicit voice theories and outlined self-report survey measures for each of them. The researchers ran the statistical tests of association between the implicit theories identified and the voice correlates and consequences of each theory. The most common statistical tests the researchers used were bivariate correlations, analysis of variance (ANOVA), chi-squared tests, and multiple regressions. They also cross-examined data on the five implicit voice theories to establish their discriminant validity in comparison to other potential predictors of voice and silence (e.g., assertiveness vs. vulnerability, leader behaviour, employee gender, employment status, demographics, etc.), thereby treating voice and silence as separate outcomes.


Speaking of findings, Detert and Edmonson have arrived at five distinct implicit theories deterring voice in a work place. The scholars have also described the host of beliefs associated with each theory and put forth the principles for their taxonomy. They have established that the measures of implicit voice theories covariate in a moderately positive fashion. The article makes a contribution to the body of literature on implicit voice theories by publicizing more evidences on the positive relationship between the implicit voice theories and silence in a work place. The scholars assert that it is not so much down to the leaders themselves or their unwelcoming of criticism that employees may feel reluctant to speak up, but it is rather because of the perceived risks of such behaviour that are most closely associated with the employee inability to voice suggestions to the boss. In view of the mentioned findings, Detert and Edmonson admit that overcoming organisational silence presents a daunting challenge for researchers and managers, even if the right reinforcements for the implicit theories leading to voice are applied.

Critical Evaluation

Critically examining the article, we should point out that the research questions investigated by Detert and Edmonson have indeed covered some existing gaps in the current research that had not been properly addressed in the past. In collecting the data, the scholars used the most suitable method for such kind of organisational problem, i.e., interviews and questionnaires. As for the downsides, the authors seem to be drawing the overly distinct line between bosses and subordinates by not convincingly noting that these organizational roles may shift back and forth relatively easily. For example, a starting employee may, over time, be promoted to the manager and refine his or her implicit theories, or vice versa. In this regard, we should suggest including in future studies on implicit voice theories a sample of individuals who have served in both managerial and front-line positions and elicit feedback from them. Although the authors have moved away from traditional scholarship with its focus on demographics and centred mostly on implicit voice theories, we would recommend the cultural and socioeconomic characteristics of the organisation not be deemphasised.

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