Yale psychologist Victoria Brescoll and Eric Uhlmann at Northwestern University recently completed three separate studies to explore a phenomenon that is all-too-familiar to many women in leadership positions: Anger is not a pretty thing. The studies conclude that men who get angry are accepted and even rewarded but women who lose their temper are perceived to be less competent.
The studies, published in the March issue of Psychological Science, provide women with recommendations for navigating emotional hazards of the workplace. Brescoll says it pays to stay emotionally neutral and, if you can’t, at least explain what ticked you off in the first place.
One method employed by the studies was to show both men and women scenes of men and women (actually actors) who were ostensibly applying for a job. The study participants were then asked to rate the applicants on (1) how much responsibility they should be given; (2) their perceived competence; (3) whether they should be hired; and (4) how much they should get paid.
Male and female participants reached the same conclusions:
Angry men deserved more status, a higher salary, and were expected to be better at the job than angry women.
The study participants provided the same responses regardless of the type of job for which the candidate was applying. Executive- and entry-level candidates were ranked equally.
Emotions, however, had a much greater impact. When the actor-applicants expressed anger, the men were selected as the preferred candidates. And when the actors expressed sadness, the bias seemed to lessen, and women applicants were ranked equally to men in status and competence. Emotions did not have any impact on the participant’s opinions about salary–in both scenarios, the viewers awarded male applicants a higher salary.
A final study showed another way bias against female anger could be mitigated. When women actors explained why they were angry, observers tended to cut them more slack. Men, on the other hand, could actually be hurt when they explained why they were angry – perhaps, says the Yale psychologist, because observers tend to see this as a sign of weakness.
The study seems to lend some credence to the saying, “Kill ’em with kindness.”