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Several researchers have argued that the extant literature does not adequately account for the socially constructed nature of anger and suggest that anger is subjected to and defined by cultural norms and sanctions that shape how it is felt and expressed (Averill 1982, Kelly and Barsade 2001, Stearns and Stearns 1989). Norms are the group’s informal rules that evaluate and regulate behaviors (Feldman 1984). Numerous studies confirm that norms shape some emotional feelings and influence regulation of emotional expression. For example, organizational culture research has found that norms dictate the degree to which emotional expression is sanctioned or legitimized (Sutton 1991, Van Maanen and Kunda 1989). Both organizational and work unit norms have the potential to affect anger expressions and outcomes (Grandey 2000). In this paper, we focus on work unit anger norms defined as the formal or informal rules that influence anger expressions within different organizational departments.

Many factors can shape work unit anger norms, including the early history of the organization or work group, as well as the attraction-selection-attrition process (Schneider 1987, Schneider Goldstein and Smith 1995) through which individuals whose anger norms match those of the organization are recruited and those members with contradictory norms are weeded out. Emotional expression norms can develop during occupational training and socialization (Kramer and Hess 2002, Rafaeli and Sutton 1989, Sutton 1991, Van Maanen and Schein 1979). These norms can be reinforced through rewards (Staw Sutton and Pelled 1994). Other norms may be imported by individuals when they join a work group. They may come from societal norms such as differential responses to status (Tiedens Ellsworth Mesquita 2001), or gender stereotypes (Hutson-Comeaux and Kelly 2002, Domagalski and Steelman 2007). Family history and previous life experiences may also be influential in shaping behavior (Douglas and Martinko 2001). We also know from previous research that some people have different individual comfort levels with the expression of anger; indeed, emotional expressivity is defined as the extent to which people outwardly display emotions and is typically viewed as an individual trait (Gross and John 1998, Gross and Levenson 1993). Taken together, these suggest that norms may emerge from both the backgrounds and behaviors of individuals and the organization.

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