Desk Rage Follow-Up: Could It Help Your Career?

So let’s say that the other day, when you were reading a Moneybox item about the cubicle culture’s role in facilitating the supposed rise of “desk rage,” you were overcome with anger. Maybe just contemplating your sorry lot made you want to lash out at someone, demand improvements, threaten, and yell. But no. You didn’t do it. You held your anger in check and went about your day feeling grumpy but stoic.

Bad move! It turns out that anger in the workplace, while possibly bad for society, can be good for your career, or at least that’s the conclusion of a recent academic study reported  by Reuters. “We definitely know that when people express anger, they appear more dominant and strong,” Dr. Larissa Z. Tiedens, the Stanford professor who conducted the study, explained, “and when people saw someone express anger, they thought that person was a lot smarter than someone who expressed a different emotion—namely sadness—and would confer on them a higher status.”

An important caveat here is that study often asked participants to record their impressions of the angry contrasted against the sad—as opposed to the chipper or the calmly persuasive. But still. Those who “expressed their feelings in terms of anger” are apparently more respected and likely to get better promotions and pay than office sad sacks. The professor adds: “In my view, it’s a pretty simple sort of mechanism where we use other people’s anger expression as a signal of who they are and what their personality is like and what their capabilities are. When we express anger, what we’re communicating is that ‘I’m right and someone else is wrong’ … and we want to confer status on those people who are right.”

What to make of this? First, for the record, this column does not advocate, nor confer status on, workplace anger. And while I don’t take this study all that seriously, I do think it adds an interesting wrinkle to the alleged surge of desk rage—namely, the rather dispiriting point that screamers often get their way (as many members of many professions can probably confirm anecdotally). Anyway, if it’s true that the American workplace is more stress-soaked than ever, then surely the last thing it needs is an anger feedback loop: Worker A throws a tantrum and gets a raise, ticking off workers B, C, and D, who follow suit, and the next thing you know a book called Tongue-Lashing for Dummies appears. Makes your blood boil, doesn’t it?