Controlled anger can also make some people much better at certain negotiations. In a 2005 study out of Stanford University, Marwan Sinaceur, Ph.D., and Larissa Z. Tiedens, Ph.D., asked participants to role-play a negotiation. Those who were told they had poor alternatives to making a deal were much more likely to concede to people expressing anger than people who weren’t.
What’s more, research shows that angry people may be go-getters. In a study, published by Jennifer S. Lerner and Dacher Keltner in 2001, the researchers found that angry participants’ judgments resembled those of happy people: Both felt relatively high degrees of certainty and control. And both, as a result, were more optimistic about their futures and likelier to take risks, as compared to fearful people.
When we’re angry, we’re not the only ones who have more faith in ourselves. A 2001 study by Tiedens suggests that others judge us as more competent, too. Tiedens had half her participants watch a video of an angry Bill Clinton, who “looked straight into the camera” and “emphasized his points with strong hand gestures”; the other half watched a sad version, in which “his head was hung and his gaze averted.” The first group was more likely to say that Clinton should retain his position despite the Monica Lewinsky scandal. This finding extends to unknown politicians, too: When Tiedens repeated the study with an unknown actor pretending to be a politician, participants said they were more likely to vote for the angry politician than the sad one and to think he’d make a good leader. Expressing anger didn’t make the politician more likeable, but it did make him seem more competent—and thus likelier to achieve a position of status.
So, what to do with your anger? The first step is to work on noticing when you’re ticked off. In her research, Stabb and her colleagues found that “many women had tremendous difficulty even knowing when they felt angry or admitting it if they did,” she says. But that can change. “We can become better at tuning into ourselves,” she says. “This takes time and work and a willingness to do it.”
Stabb recommends paying attention to your body to notice when you’re tense: Do you clench your teeth? Narrow your eyes? Sigh? Any of these could clue you in to the fact that you’re angry and trying (unwittingly) to suppress it. Also, dig a little deeper by thinking about the way anger was expressed in your family, including considering “the rules—both spoken and unspoken—about anger expression,” Stabb says, which can influence how you show anger. If you’re feeling blocked, there are several types of therapy aimed to help you get in touch with and understand your emotions.
Once you’re able to tune in to the times when you’re angry, work on using the powerful emotion to your advantage. “It really comes down to how anger is expressed,” Laham writes. “If the focus is on calmly discussing the reasons for one’s rage, then the outcome is often good. Whether a response to goal blockage or injustice, anger promotes adaptive behavioral strategies: persistence, optimism, control, punishment. Of course, if anger grips us too tightly, it may morph these adaptive responses into the maladaptive—persistence into stubbornness, optimism into unwarranted riskiness, control into obsession and punishment into vengeance. As with the other sins, anger must be exercised with caution and a little restraint.”
In other words, anger doesn’t have to turn you into a She-Hulk. Practice noticing it, expressing it in a productive way—and wielding it wisely.
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