Koen van den Oever
Koen van den Oever

Displays of anger and happiness correlates with influence on the board

Showing emotions in the workplace? It is indeed effective in board meetings. Associate Professor of Strategy, Koen van den Oever, together with Christine Shropshire (associate professor of Management and Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University), has published an article on the subject in the top journal 'Academy of Management Journal'. 

Van den Oever and Shropshire analysed no less than 366 agenda items from 68 board meetings of four Dutch water management organisations to conclude that emotional expressions influence strategic decision-making. Van den Oever: "During board meetings, the top management team ('executive board') comes up with proposals which they submit to the board of directors  ('supervisory board') for approval and discussion. Our research shows that the board of directors can exert influence in at least two ways if, for example, it wants to see adjustments to the proposals. This conclusion is new in the literature." 

What are those two ways?

Van den Oever: "By showing anger, a director can ensure that a responsible top manager is more likely to make a commitment than if this emotion is not shown. From psychology, we know that showing anger sends important information, such as the message that a director wants to see a change and is more dominant and competent. We call this focused influence. There is also a second possibility, called diffuse influence. A board member can focus on the rest of the board. If an entire board of directors agrees to an amendment or motion, the proposal should be changed. Our research has shown that anger does not help here, but joy does. This is because it exudes passion and the will to work together."

The 'corporate governance literature' has been around for a long time and is comprehensive, but understanding the strategic decision-making process during board meetings has been lacking until now. Why is that the case?

Van den Oever: "It is incredibly difficult to understand what happens during those meetings. Lessons from psychology cannot be applied one-to-one in this research. Directors are simply not the 'average' people we see in society and on which psychology is based. The fact that we are working with such unique data makes this research original."

What surprised you most in this research?

Van den Oever: "The finding that emotions play such an important role within the board. Showing anger is certainly something that needs further investigation in the context of recent discussions about transgressive behavior. In addition, it is interesting to look in general at what those social dynamics exist in these boards. Can humour, for instance, also be effective? We hope our research will contribute to a better understanding of the social dynamics in the relationship between the board of directors and  top management."

Interested in this research? Read it here.

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