Office Hours: Jeremy Yip Reveals How Anger Influences Unethical Behavior and His New Research on Office Trash-Talking

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Jeremy A. Yip, PH.D. Assistant Professor - Home

Anger can have detrimental effects on behavior in organizations. Angry employees are likely to become more egocentric, less empathetic, and more deceptive. Jeremy Yip, assistant professor of management at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, explains how anger influences decision making in both our professional and personal lives. 

How does anger influence perspective taking?

Anger is one of the most common emotions that we experience in our social lives. My research investigates why anger that is triggered by an unrelated situation diminishes perspective-taking. 

Across six experiments, we find that when people feel angry, they become egocentric. Angry individuals tend to struggle to adopt other points of view because they experience higher levels of arousal that interferes with their ability to think clearly. Our findings offer important insight into how angry individuals anchor on their own egocentric views and how small disagreements can spiral into conflict.

More broadly, when we feel anger, our anger impedes our ability to think strategically. Therefore, we are more likely to make snap judgments without considering multiple vantage points.

What are the key attributes of a good perspective taker?

Perspective-taking is an essential skill for navigating social relationships, networks, and hierarchies. We define perspective-taking as a cognitive process that involves recognizing differences and making inferences about how others view a situation. When people engage in perspective-taking, the intersection of perspectives enables people to bridge differences of perceptions, interests, and backgrounds.

Scientific research suggests that perspective-taking is cognitively demanding and requires considerable effort. Good perspective-takers engage in more deliberate thinking, evaluate situations more systematically, and exhibit focused attention. 

How do we teach students to better manage their anger as they enter the workforce or for those already deep into their career?

Managing our emotions is not only a critical leadership skill, but also a critical life skill. Many of us struggle to identify what we are feeling and we often fail to understand how our feelings can influence our behavior. Psychological and organizational behavior research suggests that we react to situations in a predictable way. My work aims to provide greater awareness and understanding about our emotional signatures. 

In particular, some of my recent research offers important insight about how to manage incidental anger. Incidental anger is anger that is triggered by an irrelevant, unrelated situation. For example, you read a newspaper article about an injustice and you feel angry. You then have a meeting with a work colleague, and during the conversation, you find it difficult to put yourself in his or her shoes and understand his or her constraints.  Pinpointing the source of your anger can mitigate its destructive consequences on perspective-taking. When you are aware of what event or behavior triggered your anger, you can recognize whether it is an irrelevant source of information and block its spillover effect on your subsequent judgments. 

In your recent research regarding trash-talking, what are some of the interpersonal effects on competitive behavior in the business environment?

My research is the first to provide an initial conceptualization of trash-talking and some evidence of the interpersonal effects of trash-talking on competitive behavior. We define trash-talking as boastful comments about the self or insulting comments about an opponent that are delivered by a competitor before or during competition. My co-authors and I conducted two pilot studies and six experiments that show that trash-talking raises the psychological stakes of competition and motivates targets to outperform their opponents. 

The results suggest that perceptions of rivalry explain the effect of trash-talking on performance. Targets of trash-talking become more likely to view their opponents as rivals, which in turn, motivates targets to compete more fiercely and perform better on effort-based tasks. Trash-talking increases effort in competitive interactions, but incivility decreases effort in cooperative interactions.

How does trash-talking have destructive consequences when increasing unethical behavior or diminishing creativity?

Given the prevalence of social media platforms, I encourage leaders and managers to think carefully about when to expose their employees to trash-talking. Although trash-talking can motivate constructive effort for the target, it can also promote destructive behaviors by the target. We find that targets of trash-talking are more likely to cheat in order to defeat their opponents. Furthermore, we find that targets of trash-talking tend to struggle with performance tasks that involve creativity and are more cognitively taxing. It is important for leaders and managers to understand that trash-talking can have constructive and destructive consequences.