How Women Can Show Passion at Work Without Seeming “Emotional”


This lines up with what we’ve found in our qualitative research. In a recent survey on  how women can find their voice in meetings, female executives revealed they worry that their comments during heated discussions are misinterpreted as emotional. One of their pain points is that they are perceived as “overly direct,” and they often “have to reword or reposition” what they say. One executive reported that her passion was met “with great silence,” and she asked, “Is that my gender or my communication style?”

The answer is both, of course, because her style — passionate expression — is viewed differently by men and women. Overall, male executives shared “an ongoing perception that women are more emotional than men,” and they largely felt that women “need to be aware of it and remain composed.” We also heard from men that unchecked emotion by women makes their ideas less convincing and compromises their credibility, because it focuses attention on style rather than content.

That’s not to say that women are in the wrong. It’s a “lost in translation” issue, with repercussions for men and women alike. If male managers don’t check their biases, and those of their colleagues — and adjust how they receive and filter information from women — they will miss crucial input, and their decision quality may suffer.

For women, matters of perception are tricky, but here are some things you can do to minimize miscommunication and put your passion to work for you.

Be intentional.  If you use your passion to make a point, do so deliberately as opposed to in-the-moment. How? Plan your argument in advance, and generate support before meetings so your passion won’t take others by surprise. We also tell women to uselanguage that is passionate but a tone that’s moderate. In other words, remain in control so that people focus on the content of your argument and take it seriously.

Know your audience. Claudia’s executive committee was stacked with number crunchers and business analysts. She acknowledges, in retrospect, that they are swayed more readily by figures than by pure debate. She might have held the floor longer if she had begun her remarks with quantitative facts. For instance: “The sales numbers are down 6% this quarter; so let’s start by examining the sales strategy. Here’s what I have in mind…”

Use other tools of influence. Combining passion with logic, specificity, creativity, and experience can be more effective than relying on passion alone.  If some colleagues, male or female, don’t respond to passionate appeals, they may respond more favorably to a different tactic. In addition, the versatility signals that you are in control of your emotions and able to switch gears in order to effectively make a point.

Support what your gut is telling you. If you feel passionate about something, say it proudly and then proceed to back up your feelings with facts. The people around you are more likely to be swayed by your open declaration if it’s clear that you have reason and logic on your side. They might even find your passion contagious.

Credit: Havard Business Review