To Fume Or Not to Fume: Wharton Studies Cite Benefits of Anger in Negotiation

Wharton Negotiation Study

A recent article on effective negotiation and competition tactics in the Wall Street Journal utilized the results of four studies from The Wharton School. Specifically, the article discussed the benefits of getting angry in these situations.

The article cites four Wharton studies that explored the effects of anger on motivation and outcome in negotiation and competition settings. In the negotiation studies, subjects were informed that they would participate in a meeting with another person. Half of the subjects were told the meeting would be a negotiation, and the other half were told they would just be having a conversation. In the competition study, researchers told half of the participants they would be playing a computer game with a teammate, and told the other half that they would be playing a video game against a rival player. Participants in both studies were given the option to watch either a clip of standup comedy or an upsetting harassment scene from the 1985 film Witness.

Subjects who believed they were entering into a competition or negotiation were far more likely to watch the harassment scene, whereas those who were told they were having a conversation or playing a game as a team gravitated toward watching standup. Participants who watched the upsetting video before going into a negotiation or competition (and expected their anger to be a useful tool) performed more effectively.

Multiple studies have shown that negative feelings can be an asset in negotiations—or at least that positive feelings an be an impediment. In her book Sensation: The New Science of Physical Intelligence, psychologist Thalma Lobel suggested making people as physically comfortable as possible before proposing a business deal. An act as simple as serving someone a warm cup of coffee proved to increase their positive feelings toward the other person, and consequently made them a more lax negotiator.

Though it seems anger can be an effective tool, the article cautioned readers that it can also impede the creative process by narrowing thinking. Additionally, getting mad can negatively impact coordination. But ultimately, anger, when harnessed carefully and expertly, can improve chances of victory in competitive settings.


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