Expressing Anger at Work: Power Tactic or Career-Limiting Strategy?

Organizational pressures including complex relationships, chronic constraints, high stakes, and factors beyond individual control can lead to anger expressions at work.

Victoria Brescoll

Victoria Brescoll

Women and men receive differing evaluations of status, competence, leadership effectiveness when they express anger
Yale University’s Victoria Brescoll and Eric Luis Uhlmann, now of HEC Paris School of Management, report that  both male and female evaluators conferred lower status on angry female professionals, regardless of the actual occupational rank, than on angry male professionals.

Eric Luis Uhlmann

Eric Luis Uhlmann

The team found that evaluators assigned lower status to female CEOs as well as to female trainees when expressed anger, despite these women’s varying  job role statuses.

In addition, men who expressed anger in a professional context were conferred higher status than men who expressed sadness.

Kristi Lewis Tyran

Kristi Lewis Tyran

Similarly, women who express anger and sadness are rated less effective than women who express no emotion, according to Kristi Lewis Tyran of Western Washington University.

Building on Brescoll and Uhlmann’s findings, Tyran’s laboratory study found that men who expressed sadness received lower effectiveness ratings than those who expressed in neutral emotions.

Observers also attribute different motivations and “root causes” to anger expressions by women and men.
Brescoll and Uhlmann found that  evaluators attribute women’s angry emotional reactions to less changeable internal characteristics such as “she is an angry person,” and “she is out of control”.

Men seem to get “the benefit of the doubt” from evaluators, who attributed men’s angry reactions to external circumstances, such as having external pressure and demands.

Managers who help employees deal with angry feelings and expressions at work may be seen as more powerful and effective leaders by employees.

Ginka Toegel

Ginka Toegel

Ginka Toegel and Anand Narasimhan of IMD Lausanne with University College London’s Martin Kilduff found that employees expect managers to provide emotional support, and attribute leadership qualities to managers who provide emotional support in their analysis of a recruiting agency headquarters.

Further, employees considered that managerial support requires no reciprocation because it is a role expectation.

Anand Narasimhan

Anand Narasimhan

Managers have a contrasting view:   They consider providing emotional support as “above-and-beyond the call of duty” and outside their role requirements.
As a result, most managers believe that employees have an obligation to reciprocate or express gratitude and are disappointed  when employees fail to show appreciation for emotional support.

Martin Kilduff

Martin Kilduff

These discrepant views may reflect employees’ view of managers as having:

  • Formal authority based on their job roles
  • Parental-like authority, based on their help-giving.
Donald Gibson

Donald Gibson

Fairfield University’ s Donald Gibson and Ronda Callister of Utah State University note societal and cultural norms and expectations for women to regulate anger expressions and the resulting negative consequences that follow violations of these expectations.

Rhonda Callister

Rhonda Callister

Women may buffer the status-lowering , competence-eroding, and dislike-provoking consequences of anger at work by:

-*What impacts and consequences have you observed for people who express anger in the workplace?

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