Get Angry, Not Stupid™; How to Leverage Your Emotions for Better Results

Anger is one of the most powerful and feared emotions anywhere, but certainly in the workplace. As long-time assessors of emotional intelligence, Colm and I have always encouraged our clients to eliminate and suppress any form of afflictive emotions in meetings. Afflictive emotions are the types of feelings that make you feel badly, like anger; they feel distressing. We have realized, after a lot of research and study, that we and all the other emotional intelligence assessors we know have been doing this wrong, and that it is time for a change.

As we have worked with some of the world’s highest performing organizations, we’ve noticed that the highest performing teams don’t restrict the expression of anger. Instead, they have learned to use these emotions intelligently and found a way to express afflictive emotion in a way that can build relationships.

Our beef is with stupidity, not anger. The problem isn’t that people get angry. It’s that they get stupid while feeling angry, and they wind up saying things that they later regret and that causes damage to key relationships.

Think about a time when you found yourself starting to lose it. your heart rate increases, your breathing changes, and you feel as though you can’t stop yourself from blurting out whatever is on your mind – even though you know, in that moment, it is going to cause relationship damage.

You have a choice to make in these moments about how you are going to respond to this emotional surge. We all feel them at some point: Is it going to control you, or will you control it? We don’t want you to suppress or eliminate these emotions, but we do want you to use them in an intelligent way.

In moments when your blood is boiling, the key is to manage your physical reaction so you can manage your emotional response. We suggest, doing things like; managing your breathing, or changing a body position.

For example:

Sit back, rather than leaning in
Open your arms in a palms-up posture, rather than crossing your arms with clenched fists 
Simply ask yourself any question (Silently, ‘what did I have for breakfast’)

It’s important that you manage your anger, and it’s also important, however counterintuitive this may sound, to use your anger intelligently.

Anger has two big advantages:

It narrows your focus, which stops your paralysis by analysis; and
It makes you more confident in your decision.

Anger is not a good emotion when you’re developing your ideas and attack plan, but it can be an excellent emotion when you need to action your ideas.

For example: if my team is facing a crisis, I want to plan our strategy in a calm and rational state.

However, you do not want your team to take a calm and passive approach to addressing the problem once they have a plan. In fact, you may want to get them a little riled up and in battle-mode, to attack that problem with vigor. That might sound something like, “Hey! We lost that last project because we were late delivering our proposal. I know this client hasn’t given us a fair amount of time to deliver this one, but we’re not going to lose another one. Let’s get this done!”

In our book Step Up, Lead In Six Moments That Matter, the idea of getting angry, not stupid, is just one of the counterintuitive ways that we recommend people lead, regardless of their title, or their position on the org-chart.

If you want to learn more about Stepping Up, contact us.

As always, we welcome your comments. Join us on Facebook to share your experiences, or email us at [email protected]

4 replies
  1. Fabio Pirrello
    Fabio Pirrello says:

    Getting angry can really boost the effort against a given goal, the most important thing is not channel the sentiment against one person or one organization (of course is always easier to find someone who could have done a better job). Getting angry in the workplace is the best way to challenge yourself to reach a performance peak in a difficult situation and let your team catch your spirit.

  2. Ken Hill
    Ken Hill says:

    My wife points out that she will implement immediate, sweeping change for the better when she is just the right amount of pissed off. If she’s a little too mad, she will just break stuff…

    When harnessed correctly, anger is an agent of powerful change, indeed, and I would assert that nothing ever happens until somebody gets fed up enough with their status quo.

    Great article!

    • Dynamic Results
      Dynamic Results says:

      Ken, thanks for your comment. We love your wife’s distinction of ‘just the right amount of pissed off’, and your insight into how anger needs to have a harness. We are all our own powerful change agents and anger in the right measure can truly fuel us into action.


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