Anger doesn't pay

2010

It's an old cliché: "don't get mad, get even". But there is another good reason not to get angry. According to research from Melbourne Business School, individuals who lose their tempers are less likely to emerge as successful business leaders.

The research by Professor Ian Williamson and organizational psychologist, Carol Gill, found that those individuals who are able to recognise their negative feelings, defuse them, and then choose a more appropriate response tend to be rated as a higher performer by their colleagues and are also more satisfied with their own performance.

Those who aren't so proficient at defusing their emotions and who respond more reactively – in other words, who lose their tempers - tend to get shot down by other team members during conflict.

Williamson and Gill have christened this ability to divorce yourself from your emotions as 'psychological flexibility'.

"Psychological flexibility is the ability to be aware of thoughts, feelings and urges, diffuse those that are unproductive, and choose appropriate responses," Carol Gill said.

"Employees with high psychological flexibility respond reflectively rather than reactively, leading to greater perceptions of control and improved behavioural choices. It can also improve the quality of attention, build resilience to what would normally be emotionally draining experiences and reduce burnout."

According to Gill, this is increasingly important with the current trend away from corporate hierarchy and divisional structures toward flatter and less bureaucratic ones.

"When building teams in such an environment the tendency is to select from a pool of internal candidates, which creates an increasing prevalence of self-managed teams. Therefore, developing psychological flexibility is important for several reasons," she explained.

For those with a short fuse in the workplace, the good news is that psychological flexibility is a skill that can be learned. In fact Gill claims that it can be instilled though acceptance and commitment therapy in sessions as short as four hours.

"It involves training people to be aware of their thoughts and feelings and take control of their behaviour by basing their actions on values and goals rather than their internal events," she added.

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Older Comments

Thanks for writing this article, Brian. It’s good to see what the research is between angry behavior and effectiveness in the workplace. I’ve written an article in my blog that touches on a similar topic, how a manager who yells reveals that he or she is managing from a deficit. That is, they are “playing from behind” and are trying to take short cuts to catch up and exert change, ineffectively of course. The article can be found at Thanks for writing this article, Brian. It’s good to see what the research is between angry behavior and effectiveness in the workplace. I’ve written an article in my blog that touches on a similar topic, how a manager who yells reveals that he or she is managing from a deficit. That is, they are “playing from behind” and are trying to take short cuts to catch up and exert change, ineffectively of course. The article can be found at www.managerbydesign.com/2010/02/the-manager-who-yells-is-managing-from-a-deficit/

Walter Oelwein Seattle