Boys, Don’t Cry: Gender and Reactions to Negative Performance Feedback.

In this study, the employee’s response to a negative evaluation is
analyzed. The fact of receiving feedback often puts the employee in front of
disparate psychological mechanisms, contrasting emotions that are difficult to
predict ex-ante. In particular, the
topic of work focuses on the analysis of reactions for negative feedback,
especially from male employees.

Often, in response to negative feedback, the employee can have a crying
reaction. Crying is often an underestimated response, especially in the
workplace. The paper wants to understand the mechanism underlying the feedback
from the evaluator to the employee, the reaction of the employee (especially if
it is explored with crying) and the behavioral process of the evaluator after
having seen the reaction of the employee affected by feedback. Everything is
brought on an exponential level if the crying employee is a man. What derives
from the behavior of a worker in response to feedback can lead the evaluator to
modify the employee’s perception. Moreover, in response to feedback, what for a
working-woman is defined as “socially acceptable”, often for a man is not (and
vice versa). An example of all is the fact of crying. For a woman it is even
advisable to cry to let off steam because of negative feedback; for a man,
already at a childish age, crying is not considered acceptable or at least

Specifically, the evaluator, faced with the employee’s crying in
response to feedback, will also modify the employee’s assessment processes
regarding leadership skills.



Theoretical perspective

All the theoretical structure of the study is based on role congruity theory:
in general, the common sense wants that the role between man and woman poles
apart. Society, like the working environment, which is contaminated by the game
of roles, in which the “socially adaptable” is evaluated to the extent that a
person plays his part.

This therefore entails a degree of prejudice towards the behavior of the
other person, which is expressed in true discrimination when atypical behavior
occurs. According to the theoretical perspective of the study, atypical
behaviors or in line with the role played by the other sex (gentle man / woman
leader) are always penalizing. For all this, the reaction of a man who cries
then violates the fundamental pillars of the role congruity theory. Crying men
are considered abnormal because they differ significantly from typical patterns
of behavior.

When an employee receives negative performance feedback, the indirect
effect of the employee crying on performance evaluation, leadership ability
assessments and the tone of the recommendation letter through perceived
typicality is moderated by the gender of the employees in such a way that the
indirect effect is significant only when the male employee is crying.


Quality of supporting evidence

The study is different from previous studies, even the guidelines that
runs through the work address the prejudice, in response to an atypical
behavior, in specific cases, against men in the workplace; which in previous
studies was only dealt with on the woman’s side.

The discriminatory behavior of this study is dealt with in many areas
and contexts, highlighting how socially atypical and unacceptable behavior for
a gender is a cause of prejudice, bullying, and loneliness. The negative
effects are particularly strong when a gender acts in line with the
expectations of the role of the other sex.


Key assumptions

the context of performance feedback, we expect that supervisors who perceive
atypical behavior in response to negative performance feedback will be
prevented against the employee, thus generating assessments against the
employees themselves. On the wrong day, when the
feedback’s particularly upsetting, it may even bring the workers to tears. If
this happens to a male worker, according to this research, it could spell bad
news for his career prospects. Recruited 169 adults based in the US, with an
average age 32 and mostly in active employment, and presented them with one of
several versions of a 6-minute video showing a performance evaluation of a
grocery store manager named Pat: a scripted role performed by actors in their
early twenties, a male one in some videos, a female one in others. Participants
were asked to imagine they were the supervisor, and the video was staged so
that they viewed the action over the shoulder of the supervisor with Pat right
in front of them. The evaluation wasn’t good: Pat had recently been rude,
frequently late, and oversaw declining sales. In some versions of the video,
this feedback was too much, provoking male or female Pat to tears.

In post-viewing ratings of how typical the behavior in
the meeting was, participants who viewed the version featuring a tearful female
Pat didn’t find her behavior any more strange than participants who viewed the
video showing female Pat remaining dry-eyed. But for participants who saw male
Pat, tears were seen as significantly atypical, and they also tended to rate
him lower for competence and accountability for leadership. Men and women alike
made these harsh judgments of male criers.Assesses conclusionWe perceive individuals who conform to their typical social roles as
more effective or successful than those who does not conform to their typical
roles. Concrete consequences were also followed.
After the video screening, participants were told that Pat was moving away from
the area and was after a short recommendation letter to help her/him find new
work, which the participant should draft. As an employee, despite his/her recent
poor performance, Pat was not a complete disaster – participants had seen a
positive resume at the start of the experiment – and many participants gave
positive feedback, using phrases like “I have nothing but praise for him.”
However, participants who watched the video depicting a crying male Pat wrote
recommendation letters with the most negative tone, as evaluated by independent
judges.Publicly crying is a signal of vulnerability: a state
that we are less surprised to see in women, who are meant to be tender and
emotional according to stereotypes. But when men cry, it violates cultural expectations
that they should be firm and in control. The new experimental data suggest
that, at least in simplified scenarios, this effects our evaluations of and
actions toward crying men. Now it would be important to see if this holds true
in real-world contexts between people with an active history, and explore it in
samples outside of the US, to establish whether for men at work – as Motro and
Ellis suggest – “crying is not an option”.