Does Anger Pay Off?

Building on Andrea’s post on teaching the Kavanaugh hearings, I am thinking about whether and how to teach my negotiation students about strategic uses of anger. Obviously such a discussion raises interesting questions around whether and how certain groups are able to display anger, and to whom. (It’s not true that all men can act angry. Only certain men can get away with acting angry.)

It would be good to consider whether there are articulable ethical limits to performative/strategic displays of anger, which in turn would implicate the question that I find so frustrating here — we may advise our students against intemperate displays of anger, especially if they undermine credibility or destroy relationships, but what if those displays appear to work? Put in concrete terms, even if Kavanaugh’s behavior during the hearings has damaged his credibility as an impartial jurist and upset some of his personal/professional relationships, what difference does that make if he ends up on the Supreme Court?

As we’ve all read, apparently President Trump and many Republicans were thrilled by Kavanaugh’s anger. Expected reactions from those in power are obviously relevant to negotiation strategy, so Kavanaugh’s angry behavior was not irrational. It will be interesting to see, over the next few days with the investigation and the nomination, whether the rational choice to appear absolutely outraged paid off (and then to consider, longer term, what that means).

6 thoughts on “Does Anger Pay Off?”

  1. Washington Post article: “Brett Kavanaugh’s anger may be backfiring. He may still win confirmation, but it has become clear that the display last week didn’t help. … While Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) forced a delay specifically because of the allegations, he now says he is also quite concerned about the temperament Kavanaugh displayed in that hearing. Calling Kavanaugh’s display “sharp and partisan,” Flake said Tuesday, “We can’t have that on the court.””

  2. Yes, good article. It’s interesting to see how the delay for the investigation — even though many think it wasn’t long enough of a delay, if the goal is a thorough investigation — has made it possible for the focus to turn from whether the alleged incident happened to questions around judicial temperament. Had the Senate voted this past Saturday, these questions would not have been raised in the same way. Also interesting will be to consider how President Trump’s criticism of Dr. Ford at a rally last night may affect the process.

  3. There is some useful research re: whether anger pays off in negotiation. Different context, but possibly useful. The gist as I recall is that when anger is perceived to be genuine it can help angry negotiators achieve their goals. I don’t believe the research gets into whether there may also be other long term consequences, perhaps negative ones, to reputation, relationships, etc.

  4. I am by no means an expert on the subject academically, but I was paid for many years to appear angry when needed and to be calm. I was the head of security for one of the largest bars in my city. And, quite frankly, there is a huge difference between being angry and appearing angry, just as there is a difference between being calm and appearing calm.

    For the vast majority of my work I was either calm or appearing to be angry. Both have their uses. Being calm is nearly always the best choice (though it isn’t always an option), followed closely be appearing calm, then appearing angry, and, in a very distant fourth place, being angry.

    Dealing with belligerent drunk people is something one can surprisingly easily become inured to, and, most of the time, calmness helps the situation, either real or feigned. But there is a very narrow subset of drunk people that respond to a display of anger better than one of calmness. And, in those cases, displaying anger (without feeling it) with a loud, deep voice, a hard expression, and an aggressive posture ends the confrontation.

    My point here being, there is a place (or, more fittingly, a use) for displays of anger. They speak to baser instincts in humans and can be used to elicit a desired response when used correctly.

    In the case of the Kavanaugh hearings, the displays of anger (real or not) got the response that Kavanaugh wanted; it riled up support. But what seems to have fallen out of popular discourse is the idea that bar brawls and Supreme Court hearings are different beasts and should not be treated the same way. Even if similar tactics can be applied to great effect and terrible outcomes.

  5. I certainly never thought that showing anger would be a useful tool in negotiating or helping others join in supporting your position. As the post points out however, who you are (race, gender, etc.) and who your audience is can play a huge part in how anger is received. I don’t think its a stretch to say that people in a position of privilege are benefited in the sense that they can more effectively use anger to gain position. I believe that someone from a marginalized group or class is more likely to be labeled a whiner or complainer.

    Switching gears on this same issue, I wonder if the effectiveness of anger as a negotiating tool will shift over time. With the assistance of social media, I think American society has taken on a ‘outrage’ culture. Everywhere I turn I see people outraged by a number of different issues. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that it gets exhausting trying to keep up with all the outrage and my reaction is to withdraw from the social conversation. I think this is a sad trend because some issue truly do have widespread impact, but get lost among all the other outrage. If anger and other emotions no longer grab people’s attention, where do we turn next? Violence? Unfortunately I think that might be the case.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.