It has been a busy few weeks, but I am getting back to my weekly posts. This week we will look at anger. Real or staged, anger is potentially effective in adversarial proceedings. It is detrimental and even fatal to cooperative arrangements. It is not to be used in business partnerships, joint ventures, serial negotiations, or joint development projects. But when do you use it and what do you do when it is used on you?
There are precursor conditions to anger becoming part of a negotiation. Competition sometimes disappoints collaborative outcomes, which fuels anger. Ego or not getting our way may fuel anger. Blocking progress or simply rude behavior may be a trigger. Whatever the cause, it is often used in competitive negotiations. So when we are in an actual competition, should we use anger? There is much research on the topic.
Past research found anger to be harmful. Leigh Thompson at the University of Washington and George Lowenstein at Carnegie-Mellon authored a paper, Egocentric Interpretations of Fairness and Interpersonal Conflict Anger that concluded that anger triggers negative emotions from your counterpart, such as self-centeredness. This makes any accord more illusive. Other researchers have found retaliatory behavior and even illegal conduct when negative emotions are on display in a negotiation.
However, more recent studies have found that anger may lead to positive outcomes. Your negotiating adversary may make larger concessions if an impasse is perceived, wanting instead to focus on progress. But anger only works if certain conditions are met. The work of Gerben A. Van Kleef at the University of Amsterdam informs us as to what those conditions are: basically perception of importance and appropriateness of scale. The setting up of these conditions are explained in my forthcoming book, where I identify over 150 tactics and how to handle them.
So should you use it? If the conditions are present, it is effective if you know the conditions required and you can set them up strategically. Never direct anger at the person, as explained by Fisher and Ury (e.g. hard on the problem, soft on the people). What if it is used on you? If it’s personal, see my Ad Hominem entry. Know that the middle of the bell curve knee jerk reaction is to avoid conflict and give concessions. Keep your cool and when someone loses it at the table and think about what is happening. I have always said the loudest person at the table is the weakest.