Read of the Day: “Being Angry at Work”
6:30 pm, June 17th | by Weiyu Li
In today’s Read of the Day, Stuff‘s Christopher Scanlon proposes that being angry at work may not be a bad thing. In fact, he argues that displaying anger properly may have positive effect on your career. Of course, there is just one (sexist) catch (there always is, isn’t there?): Scanlon’s theory doesn’t apply to women.
A study that appeared in a 2008 issue of Psychological Science found that people who displayed anger in the workplace were regarded as more competent and had higher status than those who were emotionally neutral.
In the study, 180 study participants (70 men and 110 women) watched one of eight videos of job interviews and were asked to rate their perceptions of the job candidate. At the beginning of the videoed interviews, the job candidate provided their occupation. In some, the candidates said they were chief executives while in others they claimed to be lowly assistant trainees. During the course of the interview, the job candidate was asked about an incident in which they and a colleague had lost an important account.
Some job candidates affected to be angry about losing the account. In others, the matter of the lost account was raised, but the job candidate was not asked to expand on how they felt about it, and so remained emotionally neutral.
After watching the interviews, the 180 people were asked to rank the interview candidates’ competence, their status, their salary and whether they regarded the person as “in control” or “out of control”. While angry CEOs were judged to earn less than their emotionally neutral peers ($US66,434 versus $US82,368), they were regarded as having higher status and to be more competent than CEOs who showed no emotion.
And the perceptions of competence and high status weren’t confined to CEOs. It turns out that anger can even work in favour of more junior workers. Angry assistant trainees were also regarded as having higher status and to be slightly more competent than assistant trainees who showed no emotion.
Some psychologists suggest that those who display anger are perceived by others to possess special insights and knowledge about particular matters or issues. Since people often express anger when things go wrong, angry people are perceived as having a keen nose for when things are amiss.
As Larissa Tiedens puts it in a 2001 article that appeared in the Journal of Personality and Psychology, “Expressions of anger create the perception that the expresser is competent, and status is conferred on the basis of perceived competence”.
There’s just one catch: anger only increases the appearance of competence and status if you’re a man. If you’re a woman, showing that you’re angry is likely to dent other people’s estimations of your abilities.
In fact, in the study of videoed interviews, the female assistant trainees who were emotionally neutral throughout the job interviews were perceived to earn more than the angry female CEOs. Female assistant trainees who showed no emotion were judged to earn $56,318 per year, compared to angry female CEOs who were judged to earn just $42,526 per year.
To some extent, women can reduce negative perceptions of anger if they give reasons about why they are angry. If a woman makes clear that her anger stems from another person’s incompetence, for example, then others are more accepting of her display of anger.
To read “Being Angry at Work” in full, click here.