Thursday, November 15, 2007

Women's Anger Viewed Differently

The woman exploded in anger at work, alternately spewing hateful invectives at a co-worker, then abruptly stopping and breaking into tears. Finally, she nearly ran from the room, leaving stunned colleagues in her wake.

Their reactions ranged from pity for such a “weak” person to subtle amusement that it must be “that time of the month” to outright disrespect for such an emotional display.

Angry women are everywhere, and the workplace is no exception. Women, stressed to the max with personal and professional demands, are battling to contain their hostilities at work, and sometimes it works — and sometimes it doesn’t. Of course, men — just like the fictitious woman portrayed above — lose it. But when a man gets angry at work, it’s not likely to have such an adverse impact on his career.

For women it’s another matter. If a woman gets angry at work, she is automatically marked as “emotional” by both men and women. And if she puts up with something and doesn’t get angry, then she’s often seen as a classic, “passive” woman.

Not the attributes that women want associated with them at work.

But even the most volatile woman can learn to control her anger, and deal with it in a way that is healthy for her and doesn’t have adverse affects on her reputation at work:

* Acknowledge the feeling. Maybe you’re in a meeting and you’re angry, but you can’t deal with it right then, just like you wouldn’t get up to fix yourself a sandwich if you were hungry. You would tell yourself you’re starving, but you’ll eat after the meeting. Do the same thing with your feelings – you’re mad but you’re going to deal with it at an appropriate time.
* Find refuge. If you’ve gotten really angry, excuse yourself from the situation as soon as possible, go to a quiet place like your office and then you can throw something or just vent to someone you trust. Then, take a step back and decide what you can do to make sure what got you so angry doesn’t happen again.
* Take action. This may be a private meeting with a boss where you outline how someone’s behavior or a certain practice interferes with you doing your job properly. Taking action is what any professional – male or female – should do.
* Plan ahead. If you know you're facing a tough day, and it's likely to trigger anger or tears, enlist someone at work to help you out who would be willing to step in and give you a moment to recover. Or, already have something planned out to say, such as: "I want to discuss this more, but I need a moment to collect my thoughts. I'll get back to you." Then leave the room and go somewhere to calm down.

Keep in mind that anger can sabotage your career in many ways. It not only creates problems for you, but gives others ammunition to use against you.


Unknown said...

Anita, it’s very true that women are still judged differently from men in the workplace. But that’s life. People are judged by their gender, age, their appearance, their communication skills, their wardrobe, and lots of other factors that “shouldn’t” matter but do. However, I would argue that ANYONE, male or female, should be able to control their anger at work. Irrational outbursts are unacceptable and shouldn't be tolerated in the workplace. In fact, spewing hateful invectives at a coworker is probably grounds for termination, and rightly so! If you are so angry that it manifests in a childish display like the one described, you're probably in need of medical intervention, not just some self-talk.

That said, I do like all your reminders of how to keep from losing it when things get nutty at work. I'm going to add some to my repertoire ;)

Anita said...

Thanks for the make a good point. I think it's important that everyone learn to channel their emotions at work in a positive way, because if that happened, maybe we wouldn't have so many bosses who think that because they're the boss, it's somehow OK -- or it's expected -- that they scream and yell at workers.