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Anger in the office -- it hurts women more

  • Story Highlights
  • Expert offers tips on how to avoid getting angry at work
  • Study: Women who show anger are seen as less competent; men aren't
  • Women who explained why they were mad had more accepted behavior
  • Expert: No behavior is solely exhibited by men or women; gender is one factor
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By Maya Dollarhide
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(LifeWire) -- Ten years later, Marlene Chism still gets upset when she thinks about the time she lost her temper in front of the higher-ups. Every time she tried to talk during a meeting at the manufacturing plant where she worked, she says, the male human resources manager discounted her idea.

Women who express anger at work are seen as "out of control," expert says.

Women who express anger at work are seen as "out of control," expert says.

Finally Chism yelled out: "I'm going to be heard here!"

The room went quiet and Chism's heart sank.

"I think everyone was shocked," says Chism, 49, of Springfield, Missouri. "After my outburst, a male engineer reiterated my point and everyone listened to him, of course."

Most employees -- male or female -- would hesitate to yell at their superiors, but new research provides new evidence that women who show anger in the workplace are viewed as less competent -- while men are not.

In three studies, 463 men and women between 18 and 70 years old watched video of actors pretending to be job seekers or employers. The participants then wrote down which applicants should get the job, the type of responsibility they could handle and how high their salaries should be.

"We found that the women (on the tapes) who were judged as angry lost out in every category," says Victoria Brescoll, an assistant professor at Yale University's School of Management. She and Eric Uhlmann, a psychology professor at Northwestern University, conducted the research, published in the March issue of "Psychological Science."

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"When women express anger at work, no matter what they do on the job, they can be seen as 'out of control' or are viewed in a negative light," Brescoll says.

If the women explained why they'd gotten angry, however, it was more accepted, Brescoll says.

'I just lost it'

Caroline Power Gangl wasn't thinking about any of that during a meeting in which two female directors couldn't stop complaining.

"I just lost it," says Gangl, 45, who works for a professional dental association in Hershey, Pennsylvania. "I went off, and as my rant proceeded, I moved farther and farther across the table until I was stretched out about as far as I could without lying on the table."

Now, one of the directors goes out of her way to avoid Gangl.

"Those women think I'm a bitch on wheels," she says.

Of course, men don't always get off scot free. Ken Giglio was soundly chewed out by his supervisor after he lost his temper at work. At the time, Giglio, 44, was working for a broadcast news association in Washington, D.C., and had to contend with faulty equipment. One morning, the machinery malfunctioned yet again.

"I walked out into the newsroom, which was dead quiet, and hurled the tape cartridge as hard as I could against the wall, screaming, 'When is someone going to fix the cart machines?'," he says.

The next morning the tape machine was fixed, but his coworkers still razzed him for his outburst.

Giglio thinks the outcome would have been the same for a female colleague - which, if true, may indicate that the work environment can outweigh gender.

"Where I used to work, women were almost rewarded for their ability to stand up for themselves, (showing) the moxie to work in a fast-paced, tight-deadline newsroom," he says.

Gender is only one factor

Plenty of variables -- not just gender -- affect people's perception of others on the job, says Benjamin Dattner, an organizational psychologist whose consulting firm helps employers deal with workplace dynamics.

"When I am brought in to coach someone on the job, I think of them as a blank slate," says Dattner. "There are many reasons why people get angry on the job or react to situations or colleagues."

Giglio thinks that's why he didn't really get into trouble for getting angry. "I like to think I was given a little bit of a pass because, this incident notwithstanding, I was a friendly, easygoing coworker."

Dattner cautions against generalizing.

"When you make a statement like 'Women who get angry at work are seen as less competent,' or 'Men are allowed to be angry at work' ... I think it just reinforces negative stereotypes," says Dattner, who is also a professor of psychology at New York University. "I don't think there is a kind of behavior solely exhibited by men or women."

How to avoid anger

Consultant Lynne Eisaguirre, a former labor and employment attorney, says she thinks the stereotyping happens on a subconscious level, regardless. One way to avoid the stereotyping, is to avoid the anger and she offers the following tips to doing so:

• Decide whether the other person's behavior really impacts your individual or team performance. If not, let it go; it's not worth your time.

• Stop complaining and instead make requests.

• When you make requests, use the "1-2-3-Go!" format:

• First, say something that implies understanding or appreciation.

• Second, make a behaviorally specific request -- something the person can do or say.

• Third, show appreciation or understanding.

• Finally, move on; don't hover or nag.

Women do need to be direct and assertive in their jobs, but they don't need to do it with an edge, says Eisaguirre, author of "The Power of a Good Fight: How To Embrace Conflict to Drive Productivity, Creativity and Innovation."

"I always tell women on the job, kill them with kindness," she says.

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