It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Workplace


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Don’t get angry… get even! Or so goes the old saw. What that’s supposed to mean is that getting upset only offers negative results, like cheek-flushing, exacerbating one’s blood pressure, alienating innocent bystanders, and, in the end, serving up virtually nothing in the way of benefits. In contrast, working coolly to never ever forget, scheming all the while, and ultimately executing a PLAN of vengeance designed to retrieve whatever was lost is the way to go.

So we agree that this second approach represents the smarter strategy for success in business, right? Well, we’d all like to hope so. Unfortunately, reality rears its ugly head on this one too. Our sunshiny assumptions, it appears, may be all wet.

Turns out anger in the workplace is indeed rewarded, sometimes handsomely, says a study out of the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. According to findings of a Stanford researcher published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, individuals’ expressions of anger do indeed frequently lead to increases in status and power.

A continuation of previous Stanford studies that had determined that “high status individuals” seem to exhibit anger more frequently than those with lower stati, Larissa Z. Tiedens, Ph. D. , an assistant professor at Stanford, explained that the second study seemed to be “the next logical step, ” evaluating whether those who encountered someone openly expressing anger felt the Angry One DESERVED more status, not to mention respect.

In her experiments, Tiedens asked a study group of coworkers to rate each other on each coworker’s frequency of angry outbursts, which she then compared with the degree to which the same coworkers felt they could learn from these frequently angry individuals. Tiedens also questioned group managers, asking them to rate how likely they would be to promote individual staff employees, correlating these responses with each staffer’s anger frequency. Results devastated all Sunnybrook Farm assumptions!

Amazingly, employees who expressed the most anger on the job were voted most likely to be promoted. They also were perceived to be at the top of the list for their mentoring or coaching value. In other words, the more we get angry, the more those around us think we’ve something valuable to teach or tell.

Although we may think we would never reward Angry Ones in our midst, Tiedens’ research concluded, apparently we do. “Often we make inferences on emotional expressions but these may or may not hold true, ” Tiedens explains.

So do we conclude from these findings that, to get ahead, we all should display more “desk rage” every day, flying off the handle, venting our frustrations for all to see, hear and feel? When something happens we don’t like, should we hold nothing back, go postal?

Well, you could read it that way. But you could also live in a hut made of mud in the middle of Peoria for the rest of your life. Is that what you really want to do?

Perhaps a better recommendation might be to stop being impressed (and intimidated) by the office loudmouth. Maybe paying attention to these jerks is what gets us all in trouble, from beginning to end, AND keeps them around and encouraged. Instead, start paying more mind to those very competent if meek worker bees sitting quietly next to you. They are toiling right now at desks to your right and left.

No, they don’t go around bellowing their reactions at the top of their lungs, but they still may have a thing or two in their heads that’s worth hearing, maybe even a lesson equal to the wisdom of their noisier brethren or sisteren. So try standing your ground in the face of any furies from coworkers or staffers that come thundering your way. You don’t have to take it, you know. It may be that by working with Tiedens’ findings in this way, we can one day put an end to the transgressions of office jerks, settling our work environments down into more sensible, and peaceable, places to be.

Ken Lizotte CMC is Chief Imaginative Officer (CIO) of emerson consulting group inc. (Concord, MA), which transforms consultants, law firms, executives and companies into “thoughtleaders. ” This article is an excerpt from his newest book “Beyond Reason: Questioning Assumptions of Everyday Life".

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