It’s generally regarded that showing anger at work is not something we should look to do on a regular basis as it shows a lack of control and a loss of professionalism. That isn’t to say it is always a bad thing however. I recently wrote about a study that explored this further and found that an angry-looking face was actually perceived by people as being stronger and more dominant. Anger, it seems, correlates quite nicely with power.
A recent study has set out to explore how this applies in negotiation environments. Does losing your cool in a negotiation actually help you secure a better deal?
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of New South Wales, suggests that holding our anger in during crucial parts of a negotiation can often backfire as it causes us to lose focus on the key points of the negotiation.
The role of anger in negotiation
It is this suppression of our natural feeling that the researchers wanted to explore in depth, and in particular how suppressing this anger influences our mental state during the negotiation, and therefore our performance.
The study recruited over 200 participants to partake in a negotiation conducted online. The negotiation lasted for approximately twenty minutes, after which they were each asked to complete a short questionnaire about how they thought things went.
Anger was added to the mix courtesy of winding up half of the participants before the negotiations began with things that were generally unrelated to the topic they were negotiating about. The most common tactic was to show them a clip of a bully picking on another person, for instance.
To then trigger this anger, the opponent in the negotiation would then intentionally provoke each participate in various ways throughout the negotiation. For instance, they might negatively label their behaviors, tell them what they should be doing, try and blame them in some way, or make accusations about their conduct during the negotiation.
When you should (and should not) suppress your rage
It transpired that when participants attempted to remain cool and professional, the act of suppressing their anger would exhaust them mentally, which in turn would cause them to lose focus on the negotiation itself and therefore performing pretty poorly on matters that they regarded as pretty fundamental to their position in the negotiation.
Interestingly however, this negative impact only tended to occur when the anger was prompted by things that were central to the negotiation themselves. If the anger was stoked by something unimportant or unrelated to the matter at hand, the participants were able to compartmentalise it and carry on with their work successfully.
"These findings cast doubts on the belief that negotiators should always suppress their anger," the researchers conclude. "To be effective, negotiators should be aware when it is detrimental or not to do so, and adopt strategies that help them maintain their focus."
Suffice to say, the researchers don’t elaborate on quite what an appropriate form of expressing our anger is, and I can’t imagine punching your opponent would be particularly useful, regardless of the provocation, but nevertheless it might give us some useful insights into how to react during negotiations if we feel our blood boiling.