Posted 05/05/2020 in Category 1

The Upsides and Downsides to Hairdryer Team Talks

The Upsides and Downsides to Hairdryer Team Talks

Football players at Manchester United recall several ‘hairdryer’ moments when their illustrious manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, felt it necessary to show how he felt to his players at half-time when their efforts fell below the standards set at Manchester United. Several famous incidences with David Beckham, Steve Bruce and Roy Keane remind us that Sir Alex Ferguson did not tolerate poor decision-making, low effort and intensity at Manchester United. Although the ‘hairdryer’ moments were but one side to the many sides of Sir Alex Ferguson, they raise the question about what effect do these displays of anger and frustration have on the players in the changing rooms and their performances in the second half?

Researchers at the University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business examined leadership in the locker room. Barry Staw and his colleagues analysed hundreds of half-time team talks and final scores from high school and college basketball games. They found that coaches team talks succeed when they park the happiness bus and express their annoyance at the current circumstance whether the team is winning or losing. 

With over 300 games played by 23 teams, the researchers were ready to code the half-time team talks from positive emotions to negative emotions. Positive emotions included relaxed, inspired, pleased and excited while negative emotions included angry, frustrated, disgusted and afraid. While negative emotions benefitted points scored in the second half, there is a limit to this negativity and extreme expression of emotion. At this extreme end, a significant drop off in motivation is likely. 

Congruence seems apt - expressing how you feel to your team. If you are angry, annoyed and disappointed with the effort of a team, sharing this disapproval is worthwhile; however, a prolonged negative approach does not tip the balance in favour or effort and productivity of the team. Coaches and managers expect a level of effort, discipline and support for each other; when the team drop below this level, the congruent coach will share the feelings that match the performance and bring the teams efforts back where they belong. 

The lesson in this research study is clear – express your feelings. When you express your feelings, think about the message hidden inside. For example, expressing annoyance at a performance might convey the sense of confidence you hold in your team your belief that they can play better in the second half. The expression, though negative is telling the team – I believe in you! 


Barry M. Staw, Katherine A. DeCelles, Peter de Goey. Leadership in the locker room: How the intensity of leaders’ unpleasant affective displays shapes team performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 2019; DOI: 10.1037/apl0000418

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