According to Gallup’s annual ‘Global Emotions’ survey (2023), a quarter of adults worldwide experienced anger the day before being interviewed. It was less than one in five in 2015. The world is getting angrier.
About ten years ago, social media firms developed the ability to track what is trending. It turned out that anger and outrage, if not outright rage, drew clicks. The negativity bias that powers doom-scrolling was laid bare. People are addicted to making themselves miserable.
The media seized the opportunity to drive up their ratings. In a recent study, the authors used natural language processing capabilities to demonstrate that the sentiment expressed through headline news in the U.S. has experienced a significant growth in anger since about 2010. The phenomenon earned a name: ‘angertainment.’
Politicians jumped on the bandwagon to rally their electorates: Racial minorities, ethnic minorities, socioeconomic minorities, gender minorities, religious minorities, or regional minorities… the recipe is identical and madly simple: Pick a segment of the population and suggest unfairness to drive anger and fuel hatred to energize the base. Politics has never been easier.
Eric Hoffer, an American philosopher, stated in ‘The True Believer’ (1951): ‘Hatred is the most accessible […] of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.’ I have always thought that hatred was the shortest path to purpose.
If there is a consensus on the diagnosis of the situation, surprisingly little is proposed as a way out of this crisis. Anger at social media cannot be a constructive response to collective anger.
What about using hostage negotiation techniques? To break the negative emotions and move a hostage taker to rational behavior, five steps are prescribed by the FBI: active listening, empathy, rapport, influence, and behavioral change.
Applied to socio-political collectivities, the corresponding sequence starts with listening to the people. Next is acknowledging that all the angry population segments have valid reasons to be so. That includes women, as powerfully addressed by Soraya Chemaly in her edifying Ted Talk and a book entitled ‘Rage becomes her’(2018).
Charles de Gaulle famously started his speech in Alger in 1958 by declaring ‘Je vous ai compris’ (‘I have understood you’), suggesting with an unspecified ‘vous’ (‘you’) that he had heard and understood all the parties involved in the Algerian war. With this reset, he earned a chance to lead not one minority but a few leading to a majority. Will any political leader be inspired?
Meanwhile, management teams must assume that stakeholders, from employees to customers via shareholders, cannot leave their anger at the entrance of office buildings. Anger is everywhere. Heightened sensitivity and empathy à la De Gaulle are thus equally relevant in the workplace.
Who would have thought that anger management skills could become a competitive advantage?