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How Leaders’ Use of Negative Emotions Can Impact Team Performance

Many leaders view themselves as coaches. Coaches support, teach, and lead team members to victory. Many leaders give inspirational speeches as well as angry or disappointed speeches to team members similar to coaches. There are so many similarities especially in the way team members react to emotional displays. 

Research in the Journal of Applied Psychology examined 304 locker room speeches that occurred during halftime of high school and college games. When team performance was not great, the speeches tended to be more unpleasant. The researchers hypothesized there would be a curvilinear relationship between the intensity of the coach’s unpleasantness and the team’s performance. That is—at first team performance would improve as a result of the higher intensity. However, one some point, the higher level of intensity would lead to a decline in performance instead. 

The results revealed this curvilinear relationship. Initially the anger, disappointment, and unpleasantness positively influence team performance. The more pleasant the speech, the worse the performance. However, when the speeches reached extremely unpleasant levels, performance declined. These findings can have implications for organizational leaders in the workplace as they attempt to coach their employees. Moderation of unpleasant emotional displays seem to produce the best result for employees. 

B.M. Straw, K. A. DeCelles, & P. de Goey(2019). Leadership in the locker room: how the intensity of leaders’ unpleasant affective displays shapes team performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 1-12.