February 18, 2016

Feigning anger is an unwise tactic

In progress focused work we argue for positive, goal oriented ways of communicating. As much as possible we try to avoid negative expressions such as anger or blame because these generally needlessly threaten both the issue and the relationship. Sometimes people ask whether such negative communication might be effective or even necessary in certain situations. They argue that these negative expressions might create a sense of urgency and pressure in your conversation partner to go along with your expectations. Based on this idea they may even argue that feigning anger is a good way to get people to go along with your expectations. This tactic, according to them, could be applied in conflict situations, negotiations and in conversations in which performance expectations need to be clarified.

A new study by Campagna et al. (2015) tested whether feigning anger in negotiations works. Their finding was that it did not. It generated little tactical benefit - it hardly helped to convince people right there and then - while it did generate a strategic disadvantage. This disadvantage was that it created an action-reaction cycle resulting in real anger and that it undermined mutual trust.

Feigning anger appears to be an unwise strategy. In the short term, it hardly works. In the longer term - which is relevant for the many situations in life in which ongoing relationships with people, not just single interactions - it is likely to be harmful. I think these findings are not only relevant for negotiation but also for other situations in which you try to influence people.

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