Anger in the Workplace Isn't All Bad

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We've all been taught that anger is harmful and dangerous - especially at work. But a long-term study by Harvard researchers of 824 adults points to a different conclusion: expressing anger in a controlled way serves both careers and personal lives far better than keeping frustration bottled up all the time.

In that study, people who repress frustration are at least three times more likely to say their careers had "hit a glass ceiling" and have disappointing personal lives, according to reports in various news media. Meanwhile, those who were able to channel their anger reported greater professional success and more satisfying relationships with friends and family.

The findings are less surprising than the headlines suggest. When the Harvard researchers say "anger," they mean something closer to "assertiveness" - a concept that's been a staple of American business culture for decades.

The researchers draw a clear line between controlled anger and outright rage. Screaming tantrums are indeed destructive, says Dr. George Vaillant, a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist and director of the Study of Adult Development that began in 1965. "Individuals who learn how to express their anger while avoiding the explosive and self-destructive consequences of unbridled fury have achieved something incredibly powerful in terms of overall emotional growth and mental health," adds Vaillant, as quoted in the Guardian and elsewhere. "If we can define and harness those skills, we can use them to achieve great things."

Vaillant contends the current fashion with anger management and mood-stabilizing drugs may be doing more harm than good. Negative emotions like fear and anger often play a crucial role in the struggle for survival, he says, by focusing attention on factors that require immediate action. And repressing anger can stymie communication as well as undermine mental and physical health.

An unrelated study published in the Journal of Social Behaviour and Personality found that 55 percent of adults said an angry episode had produced a positive outcome.

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