Monday, May 28, 2012

Shouting at work: Why men get away with expressing anger & how women can

Yesterday's New York Times took a look at a different kind of public speaking: Shouting in the workplace. While shouting has overall risks and downsides, it has more negative impact on women who shout than on men who do, thanks to widely shared beliefs and stereotypes about how women and men should behave. When it comes to expressing anger, we give men a pass and hold women more accountable in a negative way, according to research by Yale social psychologist Victoria Brescoll.

Shouting or expressing anger is not only more acceptable for men in the workplace, it prompts observers to confer a lower status on women who express anger at work, both in terms of viewing women as less competent and as less deserving of a higher salary. In this summary of the research from the Yale School of Management,
The study participants, all working adults, watched a video of job interviews in which the men and women interviewees were asked to describe a time when something went wrong at work and whether it made them feel angry or sad. After watching the video, the participants were asked to rate them on factors such as their status and the salary they should earn. The angry man was perceived as higher status, more competent, more likely to be hired, and given the highest salary. The angry woman was viewed as lower status and less competent than both the angry and sad men, and the sad woman. She also earned $14,000 less than the angry man and $5500 less than her sad female counterpart. 
Why does that happen? It's in part because we attribute men's anger to external causes--things to which anyone might have a strong reaction--and women's anger to internal factors, as in "she's an angry person" or "she's out of control." Brescoll's research also found a bonus for women who express anger: If you can share why you got angry in a short, straightforward two-sentence explanation, observers will credit you with almost as much status as the angry man and feel that you have as much status, in terms of salary worth. Men, on the other hand, tend to drop in status when they start to explain why they got angry--so much so, they're better off not trying to do so. Brescoll notes, "There are situations at work where anger is normal, but women have to be careful. You have to walk a fine line between not being completely unemotional and appearing cold and not displaying emotion that will harm you and have negative consequences."

You can read Brescoll's study Can an angry woman get ahead? Status conferral, gender and expression of emotion in the workplace. Do you think women and men are treated differently at work when they express anger? Share your observations in the comments.