Anger is a natural part of life. The office is no exception. Where is the balance between remaining professional and not letting people push you around? How do you handle push back? What if it’s just a bad day? Feminist theorist and writer Audre Lorde offers insight on managing anger. PINK applies her insights to the office.
Before we talk about the benefits of anger, here are some myths about it. Our sexist society breeds women to perceive anger as “a judgement that we have been bad girls,” according to Lorde. She says we grow up thinking anger is punishment, and when someone gets angry at us we question our worth rather than just the action that precipitated the anger. On top of that, society suggests that anger is unfeminine and therefore reserved for men. Perhaps this is why the TV show is called Mad Men, not Mad Women. Eventually, women get the message that anger should be avoided.
Addressing personal anger can be especially difficult for black women who are often stereotyped as less-feminine and perpetually angry, as if anger is some irrational condition that applies to black women in particular. Mark Knight’s cartoon of Serena Williams displays this. In the cartoon, Williams is depicted as a large, obnoxious creature crushing a tennis racket as the tiny official and opponent discuss ways to appease this monster in the background. Also, Knight depicts William’s opponent Naomi Osaka, half Haitian and half Asian, as a blonde haired white woman. Readers take in the giant ogre ready to attack the unassuming damsel. Whether on the tennis court or in the office, black women live in a frequent state of resisting the urge to neck roll and desperately needing to address unfair treatment in the workplace. Certainly we can agree that there are plenty of legitimate causes for anger at work such as sexist bosses, pitiful parental leave, and lack of recognition for your work to name a few.
In order to effectively use anger, psychologist and blogger Dr. Jeremy Dean suggests viewing it as “a kind of positive energy” anyone can use to address problems. In an article about anger, psychologist Dr. Jeremy Dean says anger is one of the best self motivators, in the ranks with fear. He says the desire for a beneficial outcome increases when people are angry. This desire then pushes people to work harder to achieve solutions. Disclaimer: This is not a suggestion to purposely insight rage in employees to boost production. This may have adverse effects. Additionally, Lorde defines anger as an indicator that something needs to change. She says anger is one way to show people you feel their behavior is unacceptable. Anger in itself is natural. How we choose to express it can be problematic.
Screaming, profanity, intimidation and violent behavior are never appropriate in the office. However, monitored expressions of anger can promote a positive outcome. It’s hard not to take note of a person whose face changes color or whose cadence becomes slightly more emphatic. More than likely, people will pay attention to a change in cadence. This is a good time to directly state the issue. Lorde says “focused with precision, anger can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change.” Anger teaches us how to coexist. A terse response communicates to a co-worker that a sexual remark is intolerable. An honest and direct encounter tells an employer that her language is offensive.
Both Dr. Dean and Lorde maintain that anger is powerful. To ensure it is constructive, Dr. Dean says anger should be directed at the person who caused it in a way that promotes change rather than intimidation. A business associate should not berate an intern for putting the mail on the left side of the desk instead of the right when what she is really upset about is another co-worker’s underprepared presentation. The associate should directly and promptly address the issue with the unprepared co-worker. Dr. Dean also says anger should be respectfully expressed as the first response to the harm to avoid building tension that could erupt in a more serious way. A slightly uncomfortable conversation Monday prevents an embarrassing nervous breakdown Thursday.
Lorde says anger does not mean “we have been bad girls,” and so does not have any bearing on our worth. Anger indicates something we have done has offended someone, not that our very existence is offensive. If a coworker says something we have done or said is racist, sexist or insensitive, we must resist the urge to defend our goodness. Take a moment to listen without taking the criticism so personally. It’s not about you; it’s about a specific incident. If the coworker takes the time to discuss the issue, it probably means she believes you’re basically good and capable of rectifying the issue. This does not mean that it will feel good, but wise women can embrace anger and use it for improvement. Anger is an opportunity to understand the values of others and work to ensure their values are treated with respect. We make people feel valued when we listen and try to understand what offended them and ensure it doesn’t happen again.
When properly handled, anger can increase efficiency and lead to greater understanding of others, acting as catalyst for stronger bonds. Anger is good, and women can be mad too!
“Hatred is the fury of those who do not share our goals, and its object is death and destruction. Anger is the grief of distortions between peers, and its object is change.”
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