The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Speaking up in the Face of Difficult Situations: The Role of Emotional Intelligence, Social Intelligence, and Multicultural Competence

Friday, January 18, 2013: 10:30 AM
Marina 6 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Dnika J. Travis, PhD, Senior Director, Research, Catalyst, New York, NY
Purpose: Each day individuals make decisions to speak up or remain silent at work in the face of ethical dilemmas, interpersonal conflicts, or emotionally-charged situations.  As examples:
  • A caseworker wants to reach out to teenage members of an ethnic group that he has no prior exposure to, yet is afraid of doing so for fear of inadvertently saying something insulting, or worse, appearing prejudiced.
  • A newly promoted manager has an idea on how to make an everyday work practice more efficient, but fears that if she brings it up, her supervisor will regard her as a complainer.

As depicted in these scenarios, the worker senses that a change is warranted yet remains silent. This is not an uncommon phenomenon. Milliken, Morrison, and Hewlin (2003) reported that 85 percent of individuals disclosed being silent about work-related concerns. Considering this, what skills are needed to speak up in the face of difficult situations? This study seeks to advance understanding of the impact of three distinct and interrelated skill sets that enhance one’s tendency to speak up in difficult situations.

The study’s theory-driven model focuses on the following predictors of speaking up: (1) engagement in personal development and emotional self-management (emotional intelligence); (2) self-disclosure and generalized perspective-taking (social intelligence); and (3) ethnocultural perspective-taking and values multiculturalism (multicultural competence). In today’s globalized workforce and evolving service economies, better understanding of worker’s abilities to engage in personal growth, connect with others, and bridge differences are critical to leveraging employee voice, thus helping to foster a more just society.

Methods: This study involved a quantitative analysis of secondary, cross-sectional data of a sample of 529 Individuals working within the nonprofit (35%), public (35%), and corporate (30%) sectors. Non-probability purposive sampling was used to recruit participants.  Pre-existing scales were used that had well-established psychometric properties. As a form of structural equation modeling, path analysis using AMOS 18 was used to test the hypothesized model.

Results: The theory-driven model of speaking up yielded a good model fit (RMSEA = .000, 90% confidence interval 000 - .029, CFI = 1.00, NFI =.993). Results from the path analysis showed that engagement in personal growth (b = .097), emotional self-management (b = .139), self-disclosure (b = .126), and ethnocultural perspective-taking (b = .201) were positively and significantly related to the tendency to speak up.

Implications: Harnessing workers’ ability to speak up in the face of difficult situations offers one impetus for initiating change in organizations. Study findings draw implications for social workers in that moving beyond silence may require maximizing self-development opportunities, cultivating emotional self-management techniques, and revealing one’s thoughts, emotions, and experiences as part of relationship-building. Most notably, developing skill in ethnocultural perspective-taking—that is focused on understanding the lived experience of different ethnic or cultural groups (as opposed to generalized perspective-taking)—is uniquely valuable in motivating people to speak up as individuals see opportunities for change.