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How to use anger to make better business decisions

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Why would anger help with making decisions when all popular self-help books and a lot of research suggests that emotional control produces more positive outcomes?

Maia Young and her colleagues, investigated the impact of anger using two separate experiments.

The first examined peoples' ability to be persuaded about whether hands-free kits made speaking on the phone while driving safer. Participants were asked to read a series of articles either for or against the idea.

Those participants who had been made angry before reading the articles tended to choose articles that opposed their original attitude towards hands-free kits and were more likely to change their original position about whether hands-free kits made a difference to driver safety.

The second piece of research looked at the controversial issue pertaining to who should be the next US president, in what was then the upcoming election.

Once again, participants provoked into feeling angry tended to choose to read articles that ran counter to their original position (be that favouring Obama or McCain).

Another detail was that the effect of this anger was entirely explained by what the researchers called a 'moving against tendency’. That is the tendency of angry people generally wanting to oppose something or someone. Interestingly, this tendency was measured by participants' agreement, after the anger induction, with statements like 'I wanted to assault something or someone'.

Whilst I am not sure I would want to be working with someone who wants to assault someone, Young and her team said their results provided an example of anger leading to less bias. They suggest this happens because the behaviour that anger produces is to move or fight against the opposition's opinion. This results in angry people having more diverse and more balanced information on which they form their decision on.

The EBW View

What are the real-life implications of this result? Unfortunately or fortunately depending on your position, the researchers conceded that it's unrealistic to make people angry as a way to improve their decision making.

However, they said that in a work meeting, if someone is angry, they might be the one best placed to play the role of devil's advocate on behalf of the group. 'By encouraging angry group members to select information necessary for group discussion,' the researchers explained, 'the group as a whole may get the benefit of being exposed to diverse views and, as a result, achieve a more balanced perspective.'

So remember, next time you are in a meeting and your colleague is finding it hard to control his/her temper, enabling him/her to drive the discussion and argue against the prevailing view may result in a better, more balanced business decision and also stop the possibility of a physical assault!

Young, M., Tiedens, L., Jung, H., and Tsai, M. (2011). Mad enough to see the other side: Anger and the search for disconfirming information. Cognition and Emotion, 25 (1), 10-21 

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