‘Don’t call me dear, f**kface,’ and other ways to approach anger at work

The Cohort is Poynter’s bi-monthly newsletter about women kicking ass in digital media.

Alicia Shepard once had an outburst of anger that she’ll never forget. Shepard, the ombudsman for NPR at the time, was attending a board of directors meeting for a group of news ombudsmen. She was one of two women in the room and was years younger than everyone else.

“The executive director, another older white male, was explaining something,” Shepard recalled. “I raised my hand to ask a question, indicating I wasn’t sure what he was talking about.”

“It’s on the website, dear,” he said.

Without a beat, Shepard responded, “Don’t call me dear, fuckface.”

The retort went over well. Everyone in the room laughed. And at a reception that evening, the executive director apologized to Shepard.

“I don’t even know where I got the word ‘fuckface,’” she said. “It was [the result of] years of being called sweetie and dear, et cetera, that came bubbling to the surface and caused an outburst.”

We’re carrying around a lot of anger these days. Women in journalism have plenty of reasons to be angry. Women of color have countless more reasons to feel rage. And there are the infuriating slights all women experience — the uncomfortable comments, the double standards, the constant underestimation — that pile up over time.

What do we do with all of this anger? Where do we put it? And how do we confront it in the workplace?

Shepard’s outburst worked well for her, but knowing when and how to express anger at work is tricky. Showing anger in the office can be especially complicated for women. When men are angry, it’s often expected. For women, it can damage their reputations, work relationships, or even pay.

The idea for this week’s newsletter came from Kainaz Amaria, who emailed me some especially anger-inducing articles. “I’m not sure how to channel this rage,” she wrote. My immediate reaction was to provide answers — some tried-and-true advice — but the more I thought about it and talked to others, the more I realized how complicated anger + women + work really is. There are no hard and fast rules, and what works for one person may fail with another.

Stephanie Pedersen, executive director at The Sun News, advises being strategic about when and how to use your anger. “I’ve had bosses that were easily angered. Once you or your staff picks up on that, the anger isn’t as strong of an emotion that it possibly could be,” she…

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