Winning (and Losing) by Intimidation

Author: John Monczunski

You’re an assertive, take-charge kind of person. You refuse to take guff from anyone, and in order to get the job done you’ve been known to lean on people. Sometimes you use forceful language and may even threaten to make life difficult for those who cross you, if that’s what it takes to reach the goal. What kind of impression do you make on the boss?

If you’re a man, chances are you get a pretty good performance review. If you’re a woman, you’re out of luck. Intimidation tactics not only won’t help your job evaluation, but they’re also likely to hinder career advancement because the boss won’t like you. That, in a nutshell, is the conclusion of a recent Journal of Organizational Behavior study conducted by Mark Bolino, an assistant professor of management in Notre Dame’s Mendoza School of Business, and William H. Turnley of Kansas State University.

The study, which examined administrative employees of a state law enforcement agency, found that men received higher performance evaluations when they used intimidation tactics, while women received no such benefit. Also, unlike men who were not penalized, the more women used intimidation tactics, the less they were liked by their supervisors.

The study suggests that gender stereotyping related to forceful behavior on the job continues to be an issue, Bolino says. “[M]anagers need to try harder to ensure that gender stereotypes regarding ‘appropriate’ behavior do not contribute to unfair treatment of their employees.” The Notre Dame business professor concludes that unless and until the overall culture changes, women use intimidation for career advancement at their peril.

Even for men, Bolino cautions that the tactic is risky when so many organizations now emphasize teamwork. People today who are seen as abrasive may be viewed as liabilities because they upset the effectiveness of the team, he says.

(Autumn 2003)