I know its flu season, but in this case I am not talking about a cold. I am talking about another virus that can impact on as much loss in productivity to a workplace as a cold; I am talking about emotion contagion.
Just like superman, emotion contagion can infect a workplace faster than a speeding bullet. Do you often feel like moods can go viral in your office? This is particularly noticeable if there is a strong emotion attached to that mood. Emotions both positive and negative can spread amongst an organisation like a bad cold. People “catch” each others feelings when working in groups (and this can even be through a social media environment). It’s not surprising that this infection then affects your mood and everyone around you. What is more surprising is it significantly influences people’s judgment and their ability to make effective decisions and generally people have no idea of the consequences of negative emotion contagion. By contrast positive emotion contagion is found to improve cooperation, result in decreases in conflict and improvements to task performance.
Emotion contagion has been a phenomenon recognised in the research as a type of interpersonal influence (Schater 1959). It was first studied in exploring interactions between two individuals but further studies have identified that emotion contagion also has a ripple effect and ultimately has an effect on group dynamics.
The concept of emotion contagion was linked to how humans synchronise their emotions and this is driven from our emotional centre or our limbic brain, responsible for our flight, fight or freeze response. Our limbic brain is a very old part of our brain that plays a significant role in ensuring we survive and are safe. Being synchronised (working together in tribes and clans) simply kept us alive. The world has changed, but that part of our brain hasn’t. Because this part of our brain is trying to keep us safe, it is more hard wired for noticing threat than reward cues or from an emotion contagion perspective, our brains notice negative emotions faster, quicker and easier than positive emotions and pay greater attention to them.
It is important to remember that as a leader your mood matters even more than that of your people. Everyone looks to the leader and if you are in a bad mood, panic sets in. Your people wonder what that means for them. Once you become a leader you no longer have the luxury of a bad mood. Managing your moods is a critical quality when we understand emotion contagion. The capacity to self-regulation is a leadership capability critical to operating effectively.
So how can you identify emotion contagion in your workplace and what are some strategies you can do to manage your own emotions?
Here are my top tips:
Eliminate energy drainers – Are there people or situations that drain your energy? The brain is an energy conserving organ and situations or people that tire your brain can cause mental fatigue and infect your mood. What can you do to address these and other drainers? What can you do to guard against emotion contagion and make room for people and situations that energise you and keep you focused on what matters?
Get Distance and Perspective – Often, creating internal distance can be most effective. Instead of identifying with someone, take an intellectual perspective. Step back and think about the reasons for that person’s distress and the best ways to cope with it. This will give you the head space to notice what might be going on for them and what might have caused it. Once you know the cause, you’ll have a better idea of what you can do to help, whether it’s leaving a person or situation alone or making yourself available and open and consciously aware of the emotion. You might even be the cause of their distress!
Train yourself to be aware of your own mood – Our emotions are an unconscious response to outside (or inside) influences. Once we become aware of these emotions feelings negative or positive can follow on. We use a great bio feedback tool with our clients and it helps people check in with their current state based on changes in their skin temperature. It is an ideal, visual, early cue check in to assess your mood and level of stress.
Practice self-regulation tools and modify your mood –If you find yourself in a bad mood try and shake it off. Practice a mindfulness exercise or think about a future event you are looking forward to. Remember that when you make eye contact you spread positive emotions faster. Limit your gaze with persistently negative people to limit their emotional influence over you. Avoid negative body language. Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy has done a lot of research on how simply changing your physical stance or expression can affect your mood. She suggests simply doing a wonder woman (or superman) power pose or putting a pen between your teeth (it forces a smile) can positively affect your mood.
Remember your mood matters, you might feel broody, happy, scared or angry and this will infect everyone else around you. If you are a leader your mood matters even more.
View a short video on emotion contagion.
Click here to find out more or share the concept of emotion contagion with your team.
Why not book a brain bites session – 60 – 90 minute session on how to recognise emotion contagion in your workplace and what you can do about it