What Works for Women at Work – Answers to Common Questions – Showing Anger
Men at my organization seem to get away with everything. One male executive is such a terror that his competent support staff has been quitting in droves, but he’s still one of the more respected people in our company. A female colleague recently took to task an associate who had made a very serious mistake, and suddenly she’s a pariah. How do I avoid the same fate?
You’ve identified an unfortunately common dilemma that many working women face: backlash for anger, no matter how appropriate it may be.
This backlash is a result of – you guessed it – the Tightrope. The Tightrope describes that pattern of gender bias that forces women to choose between being liked (but not respected) or respected (but not liked). The female colleague described above chose to be respected, and as a result faced the prospect of not being liked. It’s important to note that while women may make conscious or unconscious choices to be either liked or respected, they don’t choose these constraints; they simply operate within them (which is, of course, unfair).
Some women work under the assumption that showing anger – or any negative emotion – is simply a no-go at work. But sometimes anger is an effective way of pursuing your professional goals or the goals of your team. Sometimes, too, it’s simply something you can’t control.
Here’s how three savvy professional women managed to show anger while minimizing backlash:
- “It’s very important to be very firm and to let people know that you know you’re being angry. I say, ‘I know that I seem really angry here, but I am angry.’ Saying it that way makes me sound a lot more firm and bold, but not so shrill and what have you.”
- “You defuse the awkwardness of the situation by stating the obvious. One time I was so angry I started to shake and my voice was quavering. My hands are shaking, because I had some notes. And I said, ‘I’m not shaking because I’m nervous. I’m shaking because I’m so angry.’ I said, ‘This is raw anger you’re seeing here.’ … And I think you have to defuse the situation, acknowledge the inappropriateness of it, but control the situation.”
- “If you really lose it, but you had a good point – just stated inappropriately – go back and recharacterize the situation. Remember, memory is malleable. So say, ‘The point I was making yesterday was…’”
And while women, for the reasons we’ve described above, have to be particularly careful when showing anger, here’s some advice both genders can use: don’t serve anger hot if you can avoid it. Also, if anger does no good, try not to use it. It may be that anger is the only way to draw the line with a bully, or the only way to get junior staff to take you seriously, but try other options first.
And if you make a mistake when showing anger, apologize and address what made you angry head on to avoid an outburst in the future. If you show others that you expect better from yourself, they will see beyond your most recent mishap.
Have a question of your own? Then Ask the New Girls!