Being given a good dressing down - lessons from Dragons Den

dragons denDragons Den returned to our screens last night, with new Dragon Hilary Devey taking her place amongst the lineup in place of James Caan (who you can still catch in this video from the 2010 National Conference).

I must admit to not knowing a great deal about Ms Devey before the show last night, but it didn't take long for her to let the audience know what they'd be in for as she quickly tore strips out of one of the hapless Dragonbait for not knowing their figures.

All of which got me thinking (as you do).  Firstly, would such a public dressing down inspire the poor individual to go back and brush up on their financials before attempting to gain investment via another route?  And secondly, does the sight of such public humiliation sufficiently inspire us the viewer to take better care of such things?

In the Journal of Applied Psychology, Ella Miron-Spektor and colleagues provide an answer, demonstrating how simply observing an angry outburst in a work context can reproduce these effects. They also explore what happens when angry messages are delivered with a twist of sarcasm.

The study involved solving a written problem, which was preceded by them listening in on a conversation that was either angry or neutral.  Participants that had listened to someone getting a telling off did better on the task than those that had listened to a neutral conversation, but only when the task was analytical in style.  So numbers and figures would be ok, but if the task was more open ended and required lateral thinking they did much worse after hearing the dressing down.

In the workplace, measured, appropriate anger may remind people of priorities and provide needed focus. But by sending individuals into fire-fighting mode it's also likely to hamper insight and the chances of recognising deeper issues. This research demonstrates that merely observing anger directed at another in a work-relevant exchange can deliver these effects. This means that enforcing demands and directives through anger may generate risk-averse work climates. 

So whilst the public dressing down on Dragons Den might encourage people to pay more attention to their figures, it will probably do little to encourage the creativity and innovation required to be a successful entrepreneur.


I must admit if I ever gave a dressing down to someone it was one-on-one and in private. You are very exposed with a dressing down on Dragon's Den both in the den and on the TV!

I must say I wouldn't want to work with any of them.  They come across as egomaniacs.  James Caan was the most grounded of the lot, and he's gone now. 

Didn't agree with her approach there, and certainly didn't with her comments recently about women not having the gumption and desire to get to the top.