A recent U.S. study suggests that there may be a right way and a wrong way to get people to come around to your way of thinking. And getting angry is clearly not that way. But here’s the kicker, and by “kicker” I mean the “sexist-bummer part.” That nugget of practical-sounding wisdom only applies if you’re a woman.
The study, by psychology researchers at the University of Arizona, found that men are not only free to let the spittle fly, but they’re more likely to increase their influence by doing so. In the study—which focused primarily on jury deliberation behaviour—male jurors who got angry and expressed their view points with passion were seen as being more “credible” by their auditors and therefore persuasive, while women who got similarly worked up were deemed “emotional”—which reduced their persuasion power.
What’s an educated professional woman to make of those findings—and does that inherently sexist orientation apply in the workplace, too? Should women bite their tongues at work and play nice even when we’re fired up?
Yes and no, says Caird Urquhart, a Toronto-based business coach and founder of New Road Coaching. Get angry at work and those that unconsciously subscribe to Misogyny Monthly will undoubtedly tag you as “emotional,” but regardless of the pervasiveness of sexist attitudes, everyone should avoid losing their cool in a professional environment.
“When people lose their temper or they get angry they’ve actually lost control, so therefore, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or a woman you’ve put yourself in a vulnerable position,” she says. “You’ve lost control of the situation and your own behaviour, so anyone listening is in a more powerful position.”
While it’s hard to tackle generations-old sexist attitudes about what constitutes appropriate male and female behaviour in public, there are ways to chip away at the idea in cubicle-ville. For one, workplaces can commit to cool heads prevailing across the board and enforce policies that ensure no one has to endure a colleagues’s temper, regardless of their sex. In this scheme, nobody gets to lose it and everybody has to act like an adult.
That said, this is definitely advice that is easier said than done. Sure, in our dream rainbows-and-unicorns world, we’d never get noticeably pissed whilst on the grind. To that end, Urquhart recommends planning ahead for potentially heated convos: draw up a list of talking points, and stick to them. Then, during the actual exchange, if you feel your internal temperature rising, take a time out.
And what to do if you do blow your top in front of a colleague? Acknowledge your behavior, says Urquhart. “Take a moment to speak with them privately and apologize. Explain why you lost it, and have a productive conversation about how to resolve the issue.” And don’t feel like you’re showing weakness as a leader—the ability to own up to errors is a sign of strength: “You can actually be re-empowered when you take a leadership role in mending the situation and the relationship.”
Who knows—over time, maybe simple maturity will become the standard for credibility.
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Excerpt: Twitter VP Kirstine Stewart’s New Book, Our Turn