Difficult People and Managing The Emotional Contagion
Research shows that employee and leader temperaments are highly contagious.
Emotions are contagious.
Employees are not emotional islands. Rather, they continuously spread their own moods and receive and are influenced by others’moods. When your employees work in groups, they literally can catch each others’ emotions like viruses, a phenomenon known as emotional contagion.
Emotional contagion is a three-step process through which one person’s feelings transfer to another person.
- The first stage involves non-conscious mimicry, during which individuals subtly copy one another’s nonverbal cues, including movements, posture, and facial expressions such as a frown. Some believe this is reflective of our evolutionary past, as being highly attuned to other people’s negative emotions was directly linked to survival. Those who could pick up on someone else’s pain, or fear were more likely to survive than those who could not.
- People may then experience a feedback stage–because you frowned, you now feel sad.
- During the final stage, individuals share their experiences, until their emotions and behaviors become synchronized.
Mimicry is not all bad; a person can also adopt a friend or colleague’s good mood, which can help enhance their bond. However, negative moods are difficult to overcome.
Difficult People and Emotional Contagion: Group Mood
A team may develop a “group mood” that reflects the mood of its manager. An University of New Hampshire study showed that the leader’s moods permeated the group’s and that “negative” moods trumped the positive ones. Employees take notice of their leader’s emotions, and therefore, leaders strongly influence the mood, attitudes, and performance of their team.
Research has also shown that:
- A positive mood can boost performance. Both positive and negative moods may affect performance, but positive moods have a stronger impact.
- The mood you bring to work affects performance more than moods caused by changes during the workday.
- Wives were not affected significantly by their spouse’s stress. Husbands, however, experienced lower marital satisfaction when their wives reported higher stress. (Marriage researchers Neff and Karney)
- Women reported being in negative moods about twice as often as men, even though they also report more intense joy than men. (University of Illinois)
- The more emotionally expressive people are, the more apt they are to transmit their moods to someone they talk with. (Dr. John Cacciopo, Ohio State University)
- Each happy friend increased an individual’s chances of personal happiness by 11%,while just one sad friend was all that was needed to double an individual’s chance of becoming unhappy. (Biophysicist, Allison Hill)
Difficult People and Emotional Contagion: Beware of the Evil Qi
According to an old Chinese Medicine passage, we need to be aware of the dangers of catching “Evil Qi” from those around us.
Emotions abound in the workplace. We are all effected by the pressures of deadlines, too much to do, and lack of balance. If you’re an emotionally sensitive person, in an emotionally out-of-balance team, with many sources of stress, you hit the unfortunate “Evil Qi” trifecta.
Here are the four emotional states you might spot at the office:
- Calm, Relaxed—Employees experience less conflict and feel they perform better. Workers are most likely to “catch” this state from colleagues.
- Stressed Out, Anxious—Frustration, anger and hostility also can mark this second-most-contagious state.
- Cheerful, High-Energy—Like the calm state, workers tend to be more cooperative. But compared with the above two states,calm or stress trumps cheerful.
- Sluggish, Low-Energy—A dull, lethargic state that workers are least likely to catch from colleagues.
Choose Your Company Wisely
According to researchers (Hatfield, Cacioppo, and Rapson) some people are more vulnerable to EC than others. They found that those who are most vulnerable to “catching” others’ emotions are individuals who tend to be:
attentive and sensitive to the emotions of others,
value inter-relatedness over independence and uniqueness
and those are heavily influenced by peripheral feedback
They also found that introverts are more likely to be affected by others’ positive emotions whereas extroverts tend to be more affected by others’ negative emotional expressions.
Difficult People and Emotional Contagion: So What Does This Mean For You As A Leader?
Leaders need to take note of the mood of their team and their own mood, to ensure that it is a positive influence on team dynamics and productivity.
Here are a few tips for leaders on managing moods at work:
- Self-awareness is the first step toward bringing moods under control. Consider keeping a journal of your moods and the circumstances are involved. This will help you understand their causes.
- Avoid triggers for unpleasant emotions. If a team member seems to have a new complaint each time you walk by his desk, don’t stop to chat.
- Make an effort to arrive at work in an upbeat frame of mind. Change your routines if you are irritated by the rush-hour traffic or long lines at a popular coffee shop. Listen to lively music during your commute so you would arrive in a better frame of mind.
- Watch your body language. Research has shown that when people are trying to “read” someone’s mood they rely heavily on that person’s body language for cues. So make sure your posture, gestures, and facial expressions send the right signals.
- Avoid imitating someone’s negative body language when you want to send a positive message.
- Pay attention to the tone of your e-mail and phone messages. Remember that you convey how you’re feeling not only in person but also on the phone and in your written communications. Make sure you convey the mood you intended in telephone conversations, e-mail, and other forms of communication.
- Keep an eye on the “group mood” of your team. The mood of a team holds clues to its well-being. If everyone in your group seems to be in a bad mood, there may be a work-related problem you need to resolve.
- Minimize the amount of time you spend among those who are negative. As the leader avoiding may be impossible, but minimizing the time, can help to protect you. So build in breaks during difficult meetings and add in some energizers that can boost everyone’s mood.
- Be proactive about managing your moods. Learn a few stress-management techniques that may help you avoid negative moods altogether like deep breathing, visualization or progressive muscle relaxation. Mood lifters may also include talking to a special friend, listening to music, going for a walk or enjoying some quiet time or a hot tea.
- Take care of your health. Bad moods can have physical causes, including hunger, fatigue, and chronic or intermittent pain, such as a headache. Build your resiliency to buffer yourself against these.
Emotions are contagious. As a successful leader, finding ways to foster positive emotions and deterring and deflecting negative emotions, can bring about engaged, successful and healthy teams.
Like this topic? Bring Beverly to your team:
Handling Negative Attitudes and Difficult People
If you have some strategies to share – comment on this posting!