Does Anger Pay Off?

Building on Andrea’s post on teaching the Kavanaugh hearings, I am thinking about whether and how to teach my negotiation students about strategic uses of anger. Obviously such a discussion raises interesting questions around whether and how certain groups are able to display anger, and to whom. (It’s not true that all men can act angry. Only certain men can get away with acting angry.)

It would be good to consider whether there are articulable ethical limits to performative/strategic displays of anger, which in turn would implicate the question that I find so frustrating here — we may advise our students against intemperate displays of anger, especially if they undermine credibility or destroy relationships, but what if those displays appear to work? Put in concrete terms, even if Kavanaugh’s behavior during the hearings has damaged his credibility as an impartial jurist and upset some of his personal/professional relationships, what difference does that make if he ends up on the Supreme Court?

As we’ve all read, apparently President Trump and many Republicans were thrilled by Kavanaugh’s anger. Expected reactions from those in power are obviously relevant to negotiation strategy, so Kavanaugh’s angry behavior was not irrational. It will be interesting to see, over the next few days with the investigation and the nomination, whether the rational choice to appear absolutely outraged paid off (and then to consider, longer term, what that means).

4 thoughts on “Does Anger Pay Off?”

  1. Washington Post article: “Brett Kavanaugh’s anger may be backfiring. He may still win confirmation, but it has become clear that the display last week didn’t help. … While Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) forced a delay specifically because of the allegations, he now says he is also quite concerned about the temperament Kavanaugh displayed in that hearing. Calling Kavanaugh’s display “sharp and partisan,” Flake said Tuesday, “We can’t have that on the court.””

  2. Yes, good article. It’s interesting to see how the delay for the investigation — even though many think it wasn’t long enough of a delay, if the goal is a thorough investigation — has made it possible for the focus to turn from whether the alleged incident happened to questions around judicial temperament. Had the Senate voted this past Saturday, these questions would not have been raised in the same way. Also interesting will be to consider how President Trump’s criticism of Dr. Ford at a rally last night may affect the process.

  3. There is some useful research re: whether anger pays off in negotiation. Different context, but possibly useful. The gist as I recall is that when anger is perceived to be genuine it can help angry negotiators achieve their goals. I don’t believe the research gets into whether there may also be other long term consequences, perhaps negative ones, to reputation, relationships, etc.

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