You might think that being able to express yourself freely is a vital part of fulfilling your potential at work.
But a study at Cornell University has found that clear rules of communication between opposite genders can actually help fuel creativity in a team.
Researchers conducted two experiments with a total of 582 participants. For the study, participants were randomly divided into mixed-sex and same-sex groups - some were instructed to be “politically correct” and “polite” while others did not receive any instructions. They were then given a creative task and asked to brainstorm ideas.
Creativity was measured by how many ideas came out of the group work.
Groups where “social censorship” was put into place were more productive, the research found. The groups were given social rules to abide by with one another along the gender divide. Sexuality and race were not covered.
The research argued that by avoiding offensive expressions and softening their language, teammates worked together more productively.
Women in the research became more confident about expressing their ideas when rules of political correctness were reinforced.
But there was a catch.
Same-sex groups generated significantly fewer ideas when they had to follow “politically correct” standards imposed by the study.
Researchers thought this was because people of the same sex didn’t need to abide by rules to avoid offending one another. The rules may have instead stifled creativity by creating an unnecessary mental burden.
“Our work challenges the widespread assumption that true creativity requires a kind of anarchy in which people are permitted to speak their minds, whatever the consequence,” Jack Goncalo, associate professor of organisational behaviour in the ILR School told the Cornell Chronicle.
Political correctness facilitates more comfortable sharing of creative ideas in male-female teams by reducing the uncertainty or “fear to offend” that people tend to experience when interacting with the opposite sex.
The world's 15 most powerful women in 2015
The world's 15 most powerful women in 2015
1/15 Angela Merkel - German Chancellor
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has retained her number one ranking for topping this year’s Forbes list for the fifth consecutive year and ten times in total.
2/15 Hillary Clinton - Presidential candidate, United States
Clinton, who could become the world’s most powerful leader in 2016, has been featured on the list every year since it launched in 2014.
3/15 Melinda Gates - Cochair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Melinda Gates has cemented her dominance in philanthropy and global development to the tune of $3.9 billion in giving in 2014 and more than $33 billion in grant payments since she founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with her husband in 2000.
4/15 Janet Yellen - Chair, Federal Reserve, Washington, United States
Janet Yellen made history in 2014 when she became the first female head of the Federal Reserve.
5/15 Marry Barra - CEO of General Motors
Mary Barra made history by becoming the first female CEO of General Motors.
6/15 Christina Lagarde - Managing director, International Monetary Fund
Christine Lagarde is entering the last year of her first term heading the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the organisation which serves as economic advisor and backstop for 188 countries. Under Lagarde the IMF has supported efforts to increase female labor force participation as way to reduce poverty and inequality. The UK, Germany, China, France and Korea have endorsed Christine Lagarde for another term as the head of the IMF.
7/15 Dilma Rousseff - President, Brazil
Dilma Rousseff, who has been elected in 2010, is Brazil's first female president.
8/15 Sheryl Sandberg - COO of Facebook
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of bestseller “Lean In,” joined the company in 2008 and became the first woman on its board four years later. Sandberg helped the social network go public and expand digital revenue.
9/15 Susan Wojcicki - CEO of Youtube
Susan Wojcicki is CEO of YouTube, the world’s most popular digital video platform used by over a billion people across the globe. She oversees YouTube's content and business operations, engineering, and product development.
10/15 Michelle Obama - First lady, United States
Michelle Obama, the 44th first lady of the United States has focused her attention on issues such as the support of military families, helping working women balance career and family and encouraging national service.
11/15 Park Geun-hye - President, South Korea
Park Geun-hye is the first female leader of a country that has the highest level of gender inequality in the developed world. In her inauguration speech, she promised to prioritise both national security and economic revitalisation.
12/15 Oprah Winfrey - Actress, Director/Producer, Entrepreneur, Personality, Philanthropist
Oprah Winfrey, a former queen of daytime TV has proven she can thrive without a talkshow. Her 'The Life You Want' tour sold out stadiums from Newark to Seattle in 2014.
13/15 Ginni Rometty - CEO of IBM
Ginni Rometty joined IBM in 1981 and later became the first woman to lead the company.
14/15 Meg Whitman - CEO of Hewlett-Packard
Meg Whitman is the only woman to have headed two large U.S. public companies: eBay and Hewlett-Packard.Until Marissa Mayer's arrival at Yahoo, she was the only female head of a leading Internet-based company.
15/15 Indra Nooyi - CEO of PepsiCo
Indra Nooyi is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo. Mrs. Nooyi leads one of the world’s largest convenient food and beverage companies, with 2008 annual revenues of more than $43 billion.
But what the research finding mean for gender relations at work is troubling, according to Goncalo.
“The fact that men and women still experience a high level of uncertainty while working together and that a norm as restrictive as political correctness provided a safer environment for free expression means we still have a lot of work to do,” Goncalo said.Reuse content