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by Cathy Vandewater | February 24, 2012


As we discussed in our introverts piece, for many quiet workers, the mere thought of presenting in front of colleagues can be a serious performance killer. When you're too worried about everyone looking and listening to you to think straight, gathering your actual ideas is going to take the backseat.

We already know that introverts find social interactions challenging because, by definition, they're more aware of all the social cues happening than your average Joe. But turns out, gender might have something to do with those tendencies too. Studies show that women may be more sensitive to social feedback than men, and thus get similarly rattled and distracted in group settings--whether they're introverted or not.

And here's the clincher: this effect only worsens if you put a group of smart women together.

In a study of individuals (of both genders) with equal IQs, researchers had subjects take a standardized test, told them their rankings within the group, then had them test again. Though everyone displayed changes in their thought processing the second time around, big differences emerged between scores of male and female participants. They all had the same baseline IQ, but "significantly fewer women (3 of 13) were in the high-performing group and significantly more (10 of 13) fell into the low-performing group."

Or in other words: women saw others performing well and choked.

Luckily, there are ways managers can help counteract this effect: first, encourage everyone to contribute something. If the floor doesn't seem to be only reserved for the best and the brightest, everyone will be less judgmental of their ideas and more willing to lay them out.

Also important: try to edge away from instant approval or denial. Women especially, but everyone in the study responded differently to cognitive challenges once feedback was introduced. Try to keep brainstorming sessions neutral until everyone's had a chance to contribute. You may just get an interesting—and otherwise unheard—point of view.

--Cathy Vandewater,

Read More:
The Study
Introverts: Not Necessarily Doomed?


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