Preview Mode Links will not work in preview mode

Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

May 20, 2022


Research shows the way we interpret emotions in men and women differs, where we’re more likely to see men as angry and women as happy or sad. We look at ways to challenge this to make sure we understand where people are coming from.



Welcome to episode 138 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we bring research to life in your leadership. This week we look at the way we interpret emotions in men and women.

It turns out that we are more inclined to associate anger with male faces, and happiness or sadness with female faces. Research shows it can work both ways - the emotion we see encourages us to perceive someone as more male or female, but also whether someone is male or female influences the emotions we see.

While this field of research is still expanding with these findings published in Emotion just recently, it builds on the idea that we don’t always get it right when we try to guess at someone’s emotion and how they’re feeling. This can lead to all sorts of confusion and interpersonal challenges in the workplace.

Here are three tips for counteracting this tendency:

  1. The first tip is really simple - just ask how people are feeling. Rather than guessing or interpreting what we are seeing, a simple question such as “how do you feel about that?” can make all the difference. It can also help the person to consider how they are feeling. So often we are not tuned in to our emotional state. We can help others to check how they are feeling.

  2. The second tip is to check your biases. We all have biases - there’s no point trying to pretend we don’t. Rather take some time to review your areas of bias. Is it about gender, or age, or nationality? It’s a fine line, but we want to recognise and celebrate diversity, while not letting it drive the way we act towards others.

  3. The third and final tip is to watch your language. Are there words that you use exclusively with one gender and not the other? I found that I would occasionally describe female colleagues who I admired as “feisty” - a word I would never use to describe a man. Instead, now I’m trying to use words like “determined”, “clear” and “confident” - words I could use equally with men and women. And it may not just be gender, it could be words you use with people of different ages or nationalities. Take some time to pay attention to the words you use.

Understanding our biases around interpreting emotions can help us to pause, reflect and change the way we respond. Take some time this week to reflect on your approach.


Sebastian Korb, Nace Mikus, Claudia Massaccesi, Jack Grey, Suvarnalata Xanthate Duggirala, Sonja A. Kotz, Marc Mehu. EmoSex: Emotion prevails over sex in implicit judgments of faces and voices.Emotion, 2022;