Communicate Less Warmth and Likeability

More than one person has recently drawn my attention to another study that “women who experience stereotype threat regarding leadership abilities react against the stereotype by adopting a more masculine communication style.”

Results indicate that women who experience stereotype threat regarding leadership abilities react against the stereotype by adopting a more masculine communication style. Study 2 provides evidence that self-affirmation eliminates this effect of stereotype threat on women’s communication styles. A third study demonstrates an ironic consequence of this effect of stereotype threat on women’s communication—when women under stereotype threat adopt a more masculine communication style, they are rated as less warm and likeable, and evaluators indicate less willingness to comply with their requests.

Double-binds are ever interesting to me, as I’ve previously noted. But the older I get, the less I care whether I’m perceived to be warm and likeable. I find that a more masculine communication style has compensating benefits outweighing the inward ratings of others. “But Big K,” one might reply, “note the consequence that ‘evaluators indicate less willingness to comply with their requests.’” Yes, they may indicate it, but do their indicators of their willish feelings correlate with actual reduced compliance with leaders’ requests? Consider the parallel: Powerful men may tick people off, and indeed subordinates of powerful jerks may say, “See if I do what he says!” But if they then actually do what the unlikeable or chilly man says, then how much does, e.g., former Vice President Dick Cheney need to care if he’s rated as less warm and likeable? Yes, that’s right, I just painted myself into a corner in which I aim to be like Dick Cheney.

I’d better end on a more pointful point, which is this: Depending on the context in which one is ‘rated,’ there may be a few rather different ways for women to manage communication in light of stereotype threat. One could be overt recognition of the threat and a conscientious attempt to avoid the adaptive preference for more masculine communication styles. As stated in the previous post on negotiation, a successful strategy can also include upping one’s feminine signals to generate audience approval, “expressing interest in relationships, community well-being, and the compensator’s point of view.” In contexts in which one is negotiating with more powerful agents, this can apparently mean earning a full million dollars more over one’s life!  But perhaps another approach, in leadership contexts, could be the more clear-headed embrace of a reduction in one’s warmth and likeability, divesting oneself of traditionally feminine virtues, especially if said reduction is accompanied by traditionally (but surely not exclusively) masculine social benefits, and a reduction in stereotype-threat.

Of course, the older I get, the more easily I can afford to be unconcerned with my likeability (literally, monetarily, I can afford it, as I no longer have to negotiate salaries much).

5 thoughts on “Communicate Less Warmth and Likeability

  1. Have there been studies on the degree to which race factors into this?

    Where I come from (a predominantly Asian country), people respond by ostensibly complying with a less warm and likeable person, and then they sabotage them spectacularly when they get a chance. So yes, bitchiness works until it doesn’t and when it eventually fails, it fails with life-changing consequences.

    I always got the respect and corporation of my team in Asia with a calm, personal and fairly “feminine” approach. Living in Australia (from which the study you quote hails) with the same approach got me dissed and dismissed.

    If my experience is correct, it suggests to me that feminism wears a variety of regional faces and it would be well worth the trouble to understand that what works in a particular racial setting doesn’t necessary transfer. Secondly, while I applaud the author’s self-assurance, I’m also deeply troubled that that’s the kind of double bind we are forced into as feminists. I’m not too sure that living a life of communicative brusqueness (however necessary it may be and I confess I’ve been forced into it as well) is one I’d like to see held up as a model for feminists. Indeed, if anything it seems to run counter to one of the vaunted privileges of feminism which is that it is supposed to empower us to be who we are — having to adopt a masculine communication style that I find perverse to succeed disgusts me. I would love to hear stories about how others have dealt with this dilemma which I find difficult to navigate.

  2. Agreed, caduceus, all of these choices are made within double-binds. So none of them really merit applause. I see them all as tainted by oppression. However we conduct ourselves, we’re doing so within contexts in which freely thriving is not entirely possible.I should add that I never recommended you have to adopt a style you find perverse!

    I’m a bit befuddled at your implication that a less other-pleasing communication style is ‘bitchiness.’ I mean, I know what bitchiness is, but — wait, do I? Maybe I don’t. I thought bitchiness was a sort of meanness, typified by harmful personal insults. Shoot, I think I lost your point. Are you saying less warmth and likeability is bitchy?

  3. Thanks profbigk for highlighting a latent assumption in my comment. I agree that a less other-pleasing communication style doesn’t have to imply bitchiness understood as meanness. Unfortunately, in my observation of what it takes for a woman to get taken seriously by the “boys”, sometimes the whole affair looks very much like the jostling one sees among a pack of dogs to see who comes out alpha. There is no outright hostility but the subtle put-downs and forms of dismissiveness which come as a part of establishing authority and the right to lead are very much a part of the exchange. And I think of putdowns and dismissiveness as a part of the culture of meanness that a masculine communication style involves, hence turning us into “bitches” against ourselves (of course perhaps, the correct term here should be the more masculine “bastardness” if one takes the genealogy seriously). Many thanks for your reflections which I agree with.

  4. Thanks profbigk for highlighting a latent assumption in my comment. I agree that a less other-pleasing communication style doesn’t have to imply bitchiness understood as meanness. Unfortunately, in my observation of what it takes for a woman to get taken seriously by the “boys”, sometimes the whole affair looks very much like the jostling one sees among a pack of dogs to see who comes out alpha. There is no outright hostility but the subtle put-downs and forms of dismissiveness which come as a part of establishing authority and the right to lead are very much a part of the exchange. And I think of putdowns and dismissiveness as a part of the culture of meanness that a masculine communication style involves, hence turning us into “bitches” against ourselves (of course perhaps, the correct term here should be the more masculine “bastardness” if one takes the genealogy seriously).

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