Dealing with Difficult People At Work: The Emotional Contagion
Research shows that employee and leader temperaments are highly contagious. Dealing with difficult people at work can really help stem the negative consequences on productivity that come from toxic emotions.
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.
- 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.
- 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)
Difficult People and Emotional Contagion: 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Keep an eye on the “group mood” of your team. 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. Build in breaks during difficult meetings and add in some energizers that can boost everyone’s mood.
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.
Contact Beverly about hosting a workshop for your team in dealing with difficult people. Learn to nail down strategies to encourage a calm and happy working environment – which, hopefully, is catching!
If you have some strategies to share – comment on this posting!