Tech & Work

Anger in the office: Its effect could depend on your gender

A new study from Yale University indicates that men who get angry in the workplace are seen in a better light than women who get angry. Here are the details.

I just finished reading about a study on anger in the workplace that made me angry. I hate it when that happens.

Victoria Brescoll, a post-doctoral scholar at Yale University, has just published a research paper called "When Can Angry Women Get Ahead?" She conducted three experiments with randomly recruited men and women in which they were shown videos of a job interview and asked to rate the applicants' status and assign them salaries.

In the first test, the scripts were the same except for one point in which the candidate described feeling either angry or sad about losing an account due to a colleague being late to a meeting.

Here's how the candidates fared in the eyes of the test group: The guy who said he was angry about the loss of an account received the highest status. The remaining order was:

  • Woman who said she was sad.
  • Man who said he was sad.
  • Woman who said she was angry.

In a second test, the script was similar except that the job applicant also described his or her current occupation as a trainee or a senior executive.

Guess who was rated significantly less competent than all the others? Yup, the angry female CEO. Brescoll noted that the group said they viewed angry females as significantly more "out of control."

A third experiment tested whether a good reason for anger made any difference. The script was altered so that some angry candidates explained that the coworker who arrived late had lied, indicating he had directions to the meeting.

The men, once again, came out on top in terms of status/competence assigned by the group. But the angry woman with a good reason to be angry was awarded a much higher salary than the angry woman who provided no excuse. One conclusion drawn was that women who have anger flare-ups fare better if they give a good excuse for the anger. But here's the kicker: The survey found that men who try to explain their actions after a workplace tantrum actually undermine their status among coworkers.

The study will be presented this weekend at the annual meeting of the Academy of Management, a research and teaching organization with nearly 17,000 members.

Brescoll said that the findings revealed a "difficult paradox" for professional women — while, for men, anger can serve as a powerful tool to achieve status at work, women may have to be more serene in order to be seen as rational.

Rational or not, I feel like throwing a chair.


Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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