Being angry at work could make you better at the job: Directed ‘negative’ emotions increase efficiency, psychology study finds

Conventional wisdom says to never go to bed angry at your partner. Also, don’t do it drive angry, send angry emails and definitely don’t post angry online. But anger can help you, sometimes and in special ways, in the office. It might even make you better at your job, suggests a new study that tested angry people in different emotional states performing tasks requiring puzzle-solving and rapid response skills.

The study, published in the latest issue of Journal of Personality and Psychologyindicates that anger can help people complete difficult tasks more effectively than other emotions.

“In all studies, when people were angry, they were more successful in achieving their goal,” said lead author Heather Lench, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Texas A&M University, who added that she definitely thought it “applied to work”.

In one test, researchers asked study subjects to solve puzzles after inducing an emotional state (anger, excitement, amusement, or sadness); angry participants solved more puzzles than others – and showed an improvement of almost 40% compared to those in the neutral condition. However, the effect was only apparent for difficult puzzles; there was no benefit to getting angry on tests with simple puzzles.

In other tests, angry study subjects were better at avoiding obstacles in a video game because anger shortened their reaction time. Elsewhere, participants who were told they would take a financial hit were more likely to try to prevent it if they were angry, such as by signing a petition, and participants outraged by the results of a election were more likely to vote in subsequent elections.

These findings fit with a theory of anger, Lench explained.

“We feel angry when there is a difference between what we want and what we have, and there is an obstacle in our way,” she said. “The reactions that are part of anger – physical arousal, increased attention – should help us resolve this discrepancy and get what we want. »

The good side of anger

Lench’s findings add to a growing body of research showing that anger can sometimes have unexpected benefits. Receiving angry feedback on an idea-generating task prompted participants to come up with more and more creative ideas, a 2010 study found. Older research has shown that showing visible anger during negotiations can pay off for the indignant party: their counterpart is more willing to make concessions when faced with someone who is genuinely angry (but only real anger will work – study participants weren’t fooled when the angry part I was pretending.)

Anger can be a powerful motivator, providing the push someone needs to change the status quo. It’s a signal from your body to act on something, Natalie Trice, a U.K.-based life coach, told the newspaper. Metro – whether it’s “Tina steals your milk, John is always late for meetings, or Kate takes credit for your work.”

When director and animator Brad Bird joined Pixar, he was specifically looking for frustrated animators who had encountered obstacles in their previous jobs to join his team, Bird told TED. Working life podcast in 2019. “I want people unhappy because they have a better way of doing things and they’re having a hard time finding a solution,” he said. They ended up creating the hit film The Incrediblesa radical departure from Pixar’s previous films and its biggest success at the time.

Some of the world’s best-known companies have been driven by the anger of rivalry, such as The BBC reported almost a decade ago. Take Puma And Adidas, global sportswear brands founded by two German brothers whose dispute spilled over into business. Or look at Reed Hastings, who once racked up $40 in late fees at the video rental chain Blockbuster, and whose latent annoyance was one of the factors that led him to to start Netflix. Then there is Uber Creator Travis Kalanick, whose idea for a fleet of taxis that people could hail from their phones, was born out of his frustration at not being able to find a taxi in San Francisco late at night.

To be sure, not all reactions to anger are positive: Anger can also make people more likely to cheat, as another Lench test showed. It’s not hard to imagine how this would be a liability in high-pressure fields where workers are paid based on performance and oversight is lacking (like many indictments for financial fraud indicate.)

And too much anger, of course, can be a fast track to dismissal, with most companies rushing to fire workers for an angry comment or whispering. threat they judge violent.

So the key to using anger effectively at work is to direct it, Lench said. For example, if your goal is to succeed at a specific task, such as completing a research project, and a specific obstacle is preventing you from doing so, such as knowing a policy, anger might just help you accomplish that task. On the other hand, Lench said, “If your goal is, for example, to look good in front of the boss, sabotaging another coworker won’t help you achieve that.”

In a society that values ​​happiness above almost everything, Lench and his co-authors’ research serves as a reminder that even so-called “negative” emotions have a purpose.

Anger “is frequently presented as an emotion that should be regulated or controlled,” they write, “so much so that people pay money to avoid living it.” This article, however, adds to a body of research that shows that while we prefer more “positive” emotions, using “negative” emotions can be more effective. more efficient.

“[I]It is not that some emotions are beneficial and others harmful,” they write, but that “just like a Swiss army knife that includes different tools to meet different needs, different emotions are best suited to solving specific problems “.

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