Anger Has Its Benefits !!

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

In October 2015, I posted a blog about a then recent New York Times article on the benefits of anger in negotiations. In “The Rationality of Rage”, Matthew Hudson reviewed then recent studies indicating that in a balanced negotiation, anger tends to provide some leverage; it helped the angry negotiator gain better results in certain instances.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal confirms these earlier studies. In its November 7, 2015 edition, Elizabeth Bernstein (in her article, ‘To Win a Negotiation? Get Mad”) discusses four yet to be published studies that found that people will often try to boost their anger in the hopes of winning a negotiation.

In three of the studies, half of the participants were told they would be engaging in a negotiation while the other half were told they would simply be chatting with someone. In the fourth study, half of the participants were told they would be playing a video game against an opponent while the remaining participants were told they would be playing a financial computer game with a teammate.

The researchers (from the Wharton School of Business at University of Pennsylvania) then asked the participants which would they rather watch: a video of Robin Williams performing a routine or a movie clip from the “Witness” in which Harrison Ford’s character is getting harassed.

Those participants who were about to play a video game against an opponent picked the Harrison Ford clip more often than those who were about to simply engage in a friendly chat or play a friendly computer game with a teammate.

From this, the researchers concluded that “‘People intuitively chose to become angry… They believed they would become more effective competitors.’” (Id.):

They were right. Anger is what psychologists call an ‘approach’ emotion—it makes us move toward or attack something. It can help us tackle problems, such as when we get mad about something political and rally to a cause. And getting made before a negotiation, competition or sporting event can fire us up. That’s why coaches trash talk rivals. (Id.)

But, the article also notes that anger does have its downside: it can harm relationships, “… be distracting, consuming and narrow our focus.” (Id.) It can boost persistence, drain our coordination and creativity as well as our emotions.  And… sometimes, it is not even warranted. It is certainly not useful if one is trying to be creative. (Id.)

Moreover, research by Maya Tamir, a psychology professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem indicates that “…our expectations influence the outcome.” In two studies she conducted, she found that participants who were told beforehand that anger would help them negotiate better, performed better in the subsequent negotiation for money than those who were told that anger would harm their performance before playing an aggressive computer game.  (Id.)

The article does contain some caveats: The anger must be measured and controlled: if it is the name-calling, swearing, flying off the handle type of anger, it will not work. Second, if you do decide to use anger, time it to occur just before the negotiations begin; if you get angry too far in advance, it will be wasted. And when you do use it, use it strategically to reach a goal, not just to vent and make yourself feel better. And, as just noted, believe in yourself that the anger will work; expectations will matter.

BUT—as we all know about our “fight or flight” response, if we do get angry, there is no way that we can then be creative, or brainstorm ideas. Anger gets in the way of our analytical, deliberative processes. So… if the goal is to expand the pie (so to speak) … anger simply won’t help due to the way our Neanderthal brains were created zillions of years ago!

… Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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