Is Your Boss Doing You a Favor By Being a Jerk?

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It might seem like a no-brainer that a kinder, gentler boss is preferable than one who is ready to ignite at any second for no apparent reason. But, surprisingly, according to a new Dutch study, some workers like it rough and respond better to mean bosses.

The study looked at undergraduate students' reactions when criticized after doing certain tasks. According to the researchers, certain personality types react more to a nasty supervisor than others. For example, those who showed a higher degree of engagement and desire to understand a situation, a trait called epistemic motivation, were more likely to up their performance to please an angry boss. These workers "generated more ideas, showed more originality and breadth and became more engaged after they received angry feedback."

Then there is the other kind of worker who prefers an easy touch. "What stupidity... my boss is the meanest man around, and the only thing that does is make me stress more, " says Bernice, a bookkeeper who, understandably, wants to remain anonymous. "When I see his name on my caller ID, my blood pressure goes up and I start to shake," she continues.

This reaction is typical for someone that has "low epistemic motivation." These workers are likely to shut down when confronted with anger.

As someone who oversees a large staff, Gina Licali, general manager of Total Woman Gym and Day Spa in Woodland Hills, Calif., says "Yes, there are differences in people's personalities, but I've found workers will never react positively unless you praise them. My motto is "Vent Up (to my superiors), and Praise Down (to my workers). I can't imagine any other way."

Of course, the researchers did say that these findings are limited by the kind of work environment present. According to study researcher, Gerben van Kleef, social psychologist at the University of Amsterdam, "It is unlikely to work in areas of stress, pressing deadlines or when there is noise in the background. But anger can work when people are in a relaxed environment because then the anger will tell them they basically need to work harder."

So, according to their theory, if Licali unloads on one of her masseuses, the client will get a better massage? Hmm...


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