Anger and Decision Making

Imagine that there are two people. You have to choose one of them to make an important decision. The first is cool, calm and analytical. The second is red-faced, with a vein throbbing on the side of their neck, angry.

Who do you choose to make the decision? Of course its a no brainer. Cool calm and analytical right?


According to recent research

“angry subjects were better able to discriminate between strong and weak arguments than the ones who were not angry—suggesting that anger can transform even those people who are, by disposition, not very analytical into more careful thinkers”

Despite its reputation as a trigger for rash behaviour, anger seems to help people make better choices—even aiding those who are usually very poor at thinking rationally. This could be because angry people base their decisions on the cues that “really matter” rather than things that can be called irrelevant or a distraction.

So armed with this knowledge what is a good manager to do?

Well firstly I do not recommend that you go around making sure that everyone is good and mad before they decide whether to have tuna or cheese with their salad. No, save this knowledge for when a big decision has to be made.

Translate ‘anger’ into a ‘sense of urgency’. Make sure that people know that their decision will have consequences that matter – to them. Get the adrenaline flowing – this matters. Anger evolved as a physiological state designed to make us make things happen. And this is what good managers are all about. Making things happen – albeit through other people. Developing a culture that is characterised by a sense of urgency will help people to take more and better decisions.

But be careful. Although the researchers do not report on it, I am sure that while too much anger might not be an issue to a Neanderthal backed into a cave by a sabre toothed tiger – it would be an issue for a manager being asked about a slipped deadline by their boss. My guess is that you just need to ‘feel the edge’ to gain the benefit in your decision making at work.

So anger matters – and (at the right levels) it helps. It is a great motivator that can fuel good decision making and action. Anger and passion are just flip sides of the same coin. Just how much passion can your culture stand?