Article | Academy of Management Journal | June 2011

Implicit Voice Theories: Taken-for-granted Rules of Self-censorship at Work

by J. R. Detert and Amy C. Edmondson


This article examines, in a series of four studies, the nature and impact of implicit voice theories-largely taken-for-granted beliefs about when and why speaking up at work is risky or inappropriate. In Study 1, qualitative data from 190 interviews conducted in a knowledge-intensive multinational corporation suggest that reluctance to speak up, even with pro-organizational suggestions, is driven by specific implicit theories about speaking up in hierarchies. Study 2 uses open-ended survey responses, with data from 185 working adults, to examine the generalizability of the implicit voice theories identified in Study 1. Studies 3 and 4 develop and test survey measures for five implicit voice theories, using additional samples comprised of more than 300 adults. The analyses establish psychometric properties of the new measures, including showing their discriminant validity from voice-related individual and organizational factors and their incremental predictive validity on workplace silence. Collectively, the results from the four studies indicate the prevalence of implicit voice theories and suggest that they are an important addition to extant explanations of workplace silence. We discuss implications of these results for theory and practice and suggest directions for future research.

Keywords: Spoken Communication; Interpersonal Communication; Employees; Managerial Roles; Organizational Culture; Risk and Uncertainty; Behavior;


Detert, J. R., and Amy C. Edmondson. "Implicit Voice Theories: Taken-for-granted Rules of Self-censorship at Work." Academy of Management Journal 54, no. 3 (June 2011): 461–488.