Expressing anger or frustration at work can be tricky, especially when there are gender stereotypes about what kinds of emotions you’re “allowed” to express as a man or woman.
Judy Braun, principal of Braun Leadership Consulting and an AMA facilitator, says she often works with women on being more confident at work and allowing themselves to show emotion a little more, or show it differently. “Anger is a natural emotion and people are right to feel it and express it. It just needs to be done in a constructive way,” Braun says.
AMA’s Women’s Leadership Center asked Braun to elaborate more on emotionally intelligent ways to express and deal with anger at work.
Some women struggle to express emotions, such as anger, believing it might generate negative reactions. What is an emotionally intelligent way to express your anger?
Judy Braun: It’s important to be able to express your emotions constructively. Yelling, screaming, or blowing up is never appropriate, but neither is keeping it inside. A more constructive way would be to articulate your feelings about the actual situation: “I’m really upset about this and I’m hoping we can discuss it after we’ve both cooled off a bit” or “I’m really upset about how this has been handled. I’d like to discuss how we prevent this from happening at a later point.”
Is there a double standard for how men and women are allowed to express anger?
JB: I don’t know if it’s a double standard, but I think there’s a perception that if someone cries, they’re seen as “soft,” and if someone yells and screams, they’re seen as a “bully.” In my experience, more women than men tend to cry—it’s how they express their emotions. Men tend to be more physical—yelling, pounding their fists, etc. It’s OK to have an emotion—we all do—but we need to be able to communicate our emotions constructively.
What kind of training can help you move from badly expressed anger to emotionally intelligent anger?
JB: First you have to realize your behavior is inappropriate and that you need to change. Then, get coaching or training, such as AMA’s Leading with Emotional Intelligence or Developing Your Emotional Intelligence. You’ll learn how to manage your “triggers” and identify more constructive coping strategies.
What about being on the receiving end of anger? How do you handle the feeling that you just want to cry?
JB: Being on the receiving end of anger or any rude behavior is never easy. You have to manage extreme self-control and manage your self-talk. For example, tell yourself, “This behavior is about them, not me. Stay calm, don’t take it personally.”
Do you have other suggestions for staying professional in these moments?
JB: Develop your “toolbox” of reactions. These include being assertive and calling the person out on the emotion you see: “I can see you’re upset about this. Let’s focus on the most immediate action steps we can take.” Other tools are staying in control, not getting triggered, managing your self-talk, using “I” statements (“I don’t appreciate…”), being mindful of breathing, asking questions to pivot, acknowledging the emotion in others to de-escalate the issue, and monitoring your tone of voice and speaking calmly.
The AMA Women's Leadership Center offers professional women a supportive forum where they can share career advice and develop new skills. Become a member and take advantage of free training and special events, such as the February 6, 2020, webinar “How to Manage Your Emotions While Under Stress.”