A team of researchers studied three blockbuster movies to argue that negative emotions, if harnessed in the right way, can help teams adapt at work.
Can you learn to handle negative emotions from movies? Well, who doesn’t have a favorite scene from a movie that they use as a talisman in difficult times? And now, there’s research to support that movies can teach you a lot about managing emotions in a difficult work environment. In a recently published article, James Summers, an expert in team management and adaptation at Iowa State University, and his co-author, Timothy Munyon, a professor of management at the University of Tennessee, argue that negative emotions, if they take advantage of the Right way, they can help teams adjust, making their case by dissecting scenes from three blockbuster movies, each representing a different type of team and threat.
For example, in the 1995 movie Braveheart, during a critical plot point, Scottish forces face off against a larger and better-equipped English army during the First War of Scottish Independence from England. While the former are ready to retire, the protagonist, William Wallace, uses humor to get the attention of the soldiers and then talks about his shared identity (sons of Scotland) to appeal to the army and continues to validate their fear of him. . Through his speech, he turns the soldiers’ fear into anger, which ensures his victory.
Pointing this out in the article, Summer explains in the statement that while anger is known to hinder our ability to process cognitively, it’s not necessarily bad all the time. Adds Summers: “Have you ever been angry and had a great workout?”
Citing another example, the researchers point out how in the film, Remember the Titans (2000)a team goes from negative emotions that are not functional to functional.
Simmers and Munyon also refer to the Wolf of Wall Street (2013) to show how teams can fail when making use of negative emotions. When the protagonist is advised to leave his company due to outside pressure, he initially agrees, but changes his mind when he sees his team distraught during the farewell speech. This decision ultimately leads to the downfall of the company.
Commenting on this, the researchers say in the statement: “Although he rationally understood the need for accommodation, we contend that Belfort’s emotions led to self-delusion where he convinced himself to maintain the status quo.”
According to Summers, teams often face disruptions, such as a critical member moving or losing an important project. During these, it is normal to experience fear, anger, anxiety, or sadness.
To help teams adjust to such interruptions, the researchers explain that it’s important to pay attention. “If someone withdraws or is having a bad day, don’t ignore or ignore them, acknowledge it. Only then can you help them turn that emotion into something that is functional,” Summer advises in the statement.