Robert E. Wall Faculty Award Winner – Donald Gibson

Submitted by JessicaW on November 29, 2011

This year’s recipient of the Robert E. Wall Faculty Award is Professor Donald Gibson, who is completing his book entitled “The Work and the Fury: Understanding Anger in the Workplace.” The Robert E. Wall Faculty Award is given to a member of the University’s faculty who is well on their way to finishing their research on a particular topic and who may need a brief time off from teaching in order to finish. Professor Gibson gave a presentation of his work in the Dolan School of Business dining room to many of his friends and colleagues. Paul J. Fitzgerald S.J. introduced the recipient as being a man of “great and deep integrity”.

Professor Gibson spoke in conjunction with a slideshow he had put together which helped him to introduce his topics. First, he explained how since the 1990s the idea of showing emotion in the workplace is no longer “edgy and new” as it was, and now researchers focus more on specific emotions and how we can be more effective with them in our organizations. Many of those who work today are occupied in “Irish Setter Organizations” where we express a bland and smiling neutral face that masks our emotions underneath.  “Rather than masking our emotions, such as anger, we need to find a way to express them in functional ways.” Says Gibson.

Professor Gibson calls anger both a curse and a hope, and defines it as a negative force or passion that needs to be controlled. The good aspects of workplace anger include righting injustices, motivating action, and signaling blocked goals. The poor aspects include stress, extreme conflicts, and job turnover.

When anger in the workplace is discussed there are many assumptions that come along with it, the first one being that anger leads to aggression. Professor Gibson explained that aggression is behavior, anger is a feeling, and although anger has behavior tendencies, the person often has enough self-control to not follow through with them. He also explained the difference between felt anger and expressed anger and described the stages of an anger episode as being a work antecedent, followed by experienced anger, followed by expression or regulation, and finally leading to consequences. There has also been a 50% drop in work homicides in 2009 as compared to in 2004, meaning that violent crime initiated by aggression in the workplace is declining.

The second assumption is that expressing anger leads to negative outcomes, although research has shown that 50% of the time expression has lead to positive outcomes. The key to achieving a positive outcome is finding constructive ways of expression rather than destructive.

The third assumption Professor Gibson spoke of is the fact that experienced anger is good for you, because aggression leads to more anger, and venting your frustrations is extremely healthy for you. The fourth assumption is very similar, saying that the suppression of anger is very unhealthy and expressions of moderate anger are very good.

The final and fifth assumption is that men express anger differently and more often than women. Women in the workplace are seen as less competent if they express their emotions and men are given more power when they express theirs.

Throughout his research Professor Gibson has conducted 49 interviews in 5 organization settings and reported 130 different anger episodes. He concluded with the idea that good consequences come if we follow an episodic approach. If we are willing to work on the situation then we will understand and realize how to deal with the problem. If we can manage our workplaces in an enlightened way, we will be able to address episodic and chronic anger.

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