The above stories—showing both inappropriate and appropriate uses of anger at work—make four basic points: (1) uncontrolled emotion disrupts the workplace and alienates employees; (2) employees have ways of getting back at bosses who berate them—ranging from whistleblower lawsuits to the Internet; (3) there is no place for profanity or similarly aggressive choices of words in recorded professional communications (recorded meaning e-mail, voice mail, interviews, meetings where minutes are taken, legal proceedings, letters, videotaped statements, etc.); and (4), despite all that, the well-considered, occasional, and purely tactical use of anger can pay off in a big way.
There are two other points about the use of anger that came out of my interviews and experiences with invincible executives. First, you need an anger style. Ranting and raving does not cut it anymore. For example, Janet Reno said that when she is angry at someone, "I lower my voice and I get more steady in my tone of voice." One of her former staffers confirmed to me that it is both intimidating and totally unnerving to have to stretch to hear her when she is mad. Everyone knows that "when she whispers, someone screwed up big time." She has developed a very effective anger style.
Former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson told me, "There is a way to tell a guy to go to hell in a way that he actually looks forward to the trip." You can get mad in a way that the person who is the subject of the anger actually thanks you for bringing the issue to his or her attention. A calm, firm tone of voice, combined with a well-organized exposition of the facts that got you mad, usually achieves the desired result.
Similarly, a federal judge told me in chambers one day that you know when he is mad because he "starts the sarcasm." He always mixes a dry, sarcastic humor in with his anger in order to defuse the situation. I once observed him tell an attorney that he did not want to hear oral argument on a particular motion because the point of law at issue had already been decided against that attorney. The attorney noticed up a hearing on the motion anyway. When the lawyer began to argue why the judge should grant the motion, the judge listened quietly for about thirty seconds. Then, out of the blue, the judge yelled the letter "D!" as loud as he could. The attorney arguing the motion, along with everyone else in the courtroom, stopped in his tracks. No one knew why the judge had just yelled out the letter "D." The judge smiled, but he said nothing else. After a few seconds of silence, the attorney resumed his passionate oral argument. Ten seconds passed and the judge yelled out the letter "E!" Silence again for a few seconds. The lawyer resumed his argument. About ten seconds later, the judge yelled out "N-I-E-D! Denied!" The whole courtroom cracked up hysterically. The judge looked at the lawyer, and said with a grin, "I told you not to raise that issue in my courtroom again. Next case." The gavel went down. Bang! There is an anger style.