anger suppressing to legitimating settings), or the strength and clarity of organizational prescriptions regarding emotional expression, particularly anger expression that occurs in organizations. Rather, the emotional labor literature has primarily focused on display rules calling for suppression of negative emotions such as anger and the amplification of display rules calling for positive emotions, such as pleasantness (Hochschild 1983, Pugh 2001). However, this approach does not account for the situations where anger expression is considered appropriate and, indeed, is encouraged to meet organizational goals, or where emotion expressions are not directly addressed by organizations. We consider how display rules vary across different organizations with different normative contexts. Many organizations try to constrain anger expressions, but other organizations value anger expression and some fail to explicitly prescribe specific emotional displays. Anger expressions may be valued, for example, because of their usefulness in increasing motivation as illustrated by Izard’s (1993: 635) description: “A unique function of anger is that of mobilizing and sustaining energy at high levels… No other emotion can equal the consistency and vigor of anger in increasing and sustaining extremely high levels of motor activity.” In addition to being aware of organizational anger display rules, individuals also bring their own values and past experiences of anger expressions to work, which may influence the extent to which they conform to organizational anger display rules when feeling or expressing anger.
We explore how work units vary both in the extent that display rules constrain anger expression and the extent to which anger expressions are valued or disparaged as a means of accomplishing organizational goals.
We used a qualitative, interpretive approach, conducting interviews to obtain thick descriptions of anger episodes within work units and the norms and display rules that affect anger expressions. Our approach was guided by the four criteria delineated by Pratt (2007) for effective qualitative research: (1) clarity about the study’s purpose, (2) explanation for the context chosen, (3) explication of sampling decisions, and (4) documentation and display of analytic approach and findings through the use of tables and figures. We address each of these at appropriate points in the discussion of our methods.