Inclusion in Action: How Leader Eye Gaze Fosters Safety and Speaking
05 Dec 2022 (Mon)
via Zoom
Ms Nicole Abi-Esber, Harvard University

Although psychological safety and employee voice are hallmarks of effective team functioning, we know very little about “the specific behaviors leaders employ to lead employees to assess an interaction as safe to speak” (Morrison, 2011). In my work I investigate and experimentally manipulate leader verbal and nonverbal cues that promote employee safety and voice.

In my job market paper, I explore how a specific leader nonverbal behavior—eye gaze—affects employees’ feelings of inclusion. Leader eye gaze conveys attention and respect, and thus affects group members’ feelings (of psychological safety and ostracism) and subsequent participation and voice behaviors. In two lab studies of face-to-face group interactions (N=482) and one study of a computer-simulated group conversation (N=547), receiving more eye gaze from the leader predicted more participation and voice (correlationally and causally), and this relationship was mediated by increased feelings of psychological safety and decreased feelings of ostracism. These relationships were moderated by individual characteristics of group members, such that the effects of leader eye gaze were stronger for racial minorities, introverts, and women—people who may feel more invisible in the workplace. This suggests that leader behaviors that promote safety may especially benefit those who need it most. When employees feel seen, they feel safer, included, and are more likely to speak.