come with the sense of unfairness? Harriet Lerner,
Ph.D. in her book The Dance of Anger defines anger
as “… a signal, and one worth listening to.” Anger
occurs when we perceive a threat that is attacking us
and prepares us to deal with the threat by throwing
enough power at it to overcome it. This threat may
be a physical one, such an attack on our person or an
emotional one, such as a threat to our core values,
our reputation, or our goals. That is why when you
get angry you attack to eliminate the threat and that
is why outbursts or anger often includes raising your
voice, pounding a table, or even throwing objects.
While many in today’s business environment feel
it is unacceptable for a woman to express her anger,
others disagree. There has been a large amount of
research conducted over the past 20 to 25 years that
suggests that if you don’t validate your anger you run
the risk of increasing it, since in addition to the initial
threat that elicited the original anger there is now the
threat to your sense of right and wrong. Others have
stated that anger turned inwards becomes depression.
Neither of these outcomes is conducive to a productive work environment.
Today we find that there are stereotypes of how
men and women address their anger. Unfortunately,
these stereotypes create a double standard for both
men and women which is generally unfair. One theory
of why these stereotypes exist relates directly to
the concept that anger is addressing a threat. Many
individuals, primarily men, continue to view women as
the inferior sex, whether they acknowledge it or not.
Women who get angry in the workplace are asserting their power in order to address the threat, and it
is viewed as a direct insult to the man whose statements or actions posed the threat in the first place.
Rather than address the underlying issues that caused
the anger men are more likely to dismiss it as a typical
Women who do express their anger are often
viewed as emotional or hysterical, and the reason for
their anger is dismissed along with their worth to the
organization. In some cases, it may result in a failure
to receive advancements or even in termination and,
if not addressed, may supersede the value of the
work done. I once managed a woman employee who
was so continually angry that her entire demeanor
was one of confrontation. Unfortunately, despite the
counseling and suggestions made she refused to ad-
dress her anger or even discuss it, and, as a result, no
one else would work with her. Eventually she left the
Other women may attempt to express their frustration in non-threatening ways such as shedding tears.
If you saw the movie Medal of Honor, you may remember the scene in which Meg Ryan, as the pilot of the
downed helicopter, sheds some tears and is ridiculed
by one of the soldiers on board. Her response cuts off
the ridicule by yelling back at him “…these are tears
of anger, you jerk.” Overall, it comes down to this one
simple statement. When men express anger they are
taking charge, addressing a threat to the organization. If
a woman expresses anger, it is a sign of instability and
inability to resolve threats against the organization.
DEALING WITH ANGER
Unfortunately, the emotion of anger is not visible.
What we see as the emotion of anger is actually the
actions that result. Individuals must learn to recognize
that the emotion is never the cause of the behavior. Behavior associated with the emotion of anger
is the responsibility of and in the control of the individual. For men, the behavior of shouting and object
tossing represents a denial of their responsibility for
what caused it in the first place. On the other hand,
women who display outbursts, whether it be yelling or
crying, marginalize themselves in the eyes of others, as
it appears that they have no control over the threat
causing the anger.
Dr. Ed Daube, Ph.D. a professional counselor
known as The Emotions Doctor agrees that anger-based actions have no place in the work environment
since it makes the individual appear to lose control,
do something they regret, create a negative work
environment, or risk retaliation. He states that “…
the maladaptive (that which does not help the situation) expression of anger should be eliminated from
work settings.” Instead, he recommends using anger
as a strategic, specifically-focused, and adaptive tool. In
other words, using anger may be appropriate but being angry is not.
Instead of exploding into angry shouts or dissolving
into tears, consider these steps: First, become alert to
the threat to you that causes the anger; second, assess
whether you have correctly perceived the threat or is
it just a misinterpretation on your part: third, make a
choice as to how you will respond to the threat. For