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Decoded: Emotion in the Office

Starting up is a personal and passionate venture. But is there a double standard for showing emotion at the office?
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Women are starting more companies than ever. Not to mention, women head 18 Fortune 500 companies, hold a record number of seats in Congress, and are increasingly earning more than their husbands.

And while there are ways to effectively deal with emotional outbursts in the office, when it comes to truly understanding one another, men can still be from Mars and women from Venus. 

So here's what experts say male co-workers or employees really see when a woman gets emotional at work: 

Tearing up = Manipulative.  When a woman tears up or gets “emotional" at work, the behavior can have two big implications. At best, “men think of as getting emotional as logic leaving the building,” said Shaunti Feldhahn, author of The Male Factor: The Unwritten Rules, Misperceptions. At worst, there is a suspicion that a woman is being emotionally manipulative. “It’s surprising to me how many men really believe women are crying on purpose to get something, or to get out of something,” said Kim Elsbach, a professor of management at UC Davis. “Women almost never perceive that.”

Getting angry = Difficult. The perception of a woman enraged can be dramatically different from that of her male counterpart. While a man is simply hot-tempered, “a woman being emotional is being 'crazy,'” said Irina Firstein, a clinical social worker and therapist in New York to CNN. But at the same time, men can be more forgiving of an angry outburst, as they are more concerned with its regularity than whether it happens at all.

“If they see you as having the pattern of taking things personally, that to them is much worse than the fact that you cried in one meeting in the last two years,” said Feldhahn. “That pattern is what makes a male colleague perceive you as difficult to work with.”

Confidence = Inappropriate. How confidence is displayed, particularly body confidence, is a potential minefield of miscommunication. “Revealing” clothing, for instance, is generally considered inappropriate for the workplace. But how skimpy is too skimpy, and what message do you send by overstepping that fuzzy gray line? “If you think your best feature is your legs, whether it’s conscious or unconscious, my feeling is that when you do attract that vibe it shows that this is what makes you feel kind of successful or wanted,” said Firstein. And that may or may not be the message you want to send.  

Persistence = Emotional attachment. When a male colleague or supervisor perceives a woman as pushing too hard, or refusing to be swayed from a position, he can come to believe that emotion has replaced rational thought.

“Our main case studies are on this exact subject, the situation where a female employee is going back to the boss with something she knows backwards and forwards, but the decision keeps being made to do something differently,” said Feldhahn. “There comes a point, and it’s different for every guy, but there comes a point where he thinks she’s emotionally attached and feels like he has to dismiss what she’s saying.” 

 

Last updated: Jan 15, 2013

JULIE STRICKLAND | Staff Writer

Julie Strickland covers start-ups, small businesses, and entrepreneurial endeavors of all kinds for Inc. Her work has been published in Brooklyn Based and City Limits in New York, the Free Times in Columbia, SC, Real Travel Magazine in London, and Daegu Pockets in South Korea. She lives in New York City.




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