Executive Speak-Well: Breakthrough Research Reveals How Inability to Effectively Communicate Undermines Achievements


Communication (Photo credit: P Shanks)

The number of “ah’s”, “‘ehs”, and “you knows” interjected into a sentence undermines how you communicate, and ultimately, achieve.

A recent research on a group of executive men and women was conducted to ascertain the relationship between the way they communicate and their levels of achievement. Specifically, video interviews were conducted on 20 men and 20 women in leadership roles at Fortune 50 companies in response to the question ‘In your career, what are the accomplishments you are most proud of?’ This question was chosen because it is one of the most commonly asked questions when leaders interview for promotions. While not identical, the men and women were comparable in title as well as the representation of type of industry. The contents from the interviews were then transcribed. In terms of content dimensionality, five categories of accomplishment were identified: use of numbers, positive monetary impact, mentoring, development of products or processes, and position or longevity. The transcriptions were also analyzed using first-person pronoun usage, gestures, facial expressions, fillers, and response length.

The discovery: Executive women undermined their achievements by:

  • talking more and saying less
  • demonstrating lack of confidence by beginning their answers with “ahs,” “ehs,” and fillers
  • failing to speak analytically about their achievements when speaking in the personal voice – and
  • cluttering their communication with gestures

The only category where executive women outshone men was in likeability – as demonstrated by smiling more and having more facial expressions. The researchers concluded that women’s upward mobility may be influenced by achievements and qualifications, but it is unquestionably impacted by the ability to effectively communicate those achievements and qualifications.

The results will be published in detail in Business Horizons, in January 2014.


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