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Want to Get More Productivity Out of Your People? Try Yelling at Them.

A study finds that anger sometimes works.

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If you want to really motivate your employees you should be encouraging, positive, upbeat and appreciative. If that doesn't work, then maybe you should yell at them.

Thomas Barwick | Getty Images

I'm not kidding. It seems that yelling at people can generate, at times, better results. At least that's the finding of a study conducted of basketball coaches last year by the University of California, Berkeley Professor Emeritus Barry Staw and his team of researchers and published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

The team found that, when it comes to halftime speeches in the locker room, the more negative the better. In fact, the more negative, the more a team outscored its opposition. "That was even true if the team was already ahead at halftime," Staw says. "Rather than saying, "You're doing great, keep it up,' it's better to say, "I don't care if you're up by 10 points, you can play better than this.'"

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More than 50 high school and college basketball coaches participated in the study (some reluctantly) over the course of 304 games and allowed the researchers to record their halftime locker room speeches. Their performance was graded based on their emotions — from "pleased" to "disgusted." Sure, it's a little subjective. But you can't argue with the findings.

Those findings clearly showed a "strong and clear relationship" between a negative halftime speech and higher scores in the second half. But there was a limit. In cases of extremely negative speeches, performances actually dropped. So there is a line.

The researchers of this study were from the Haas business school at Berkeley and their findings have relevance for any manager in any sized company. Those conclusions: in some cases, and without going too far, being negative — even yelling — can be an effective motivational tool.

So should you start yelling at your people to get better performance? Perhaps. But for sure, you don't want to do it too often or you'll likely minimize its impact. You don't want to be offensive, inappropriate, rude or insulting. You don't want to go so far as to make people really upset. But if used at the right time, and with the right balance of anger and emotion, showing your frustration and giving a dressing down once in a while can be an effective way to improve a work team's results.

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"Our results do not give leaders a license to be a jerk," Staw says, "but when you have a very important project or a merger that needs to get done over the weekend, negative emotions can be a very useful arrow to have in your quiver to drive greater performance."

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