Daniel Goleman, author of “FOCUS: The Hidden Driver of Excellence,” “Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence,” and “What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters,” discusses how leadership moods and emotions are a barometer for the success of working relationships, productivity and successful workplace culture. Goleman’s thoughtful analysis and writings on leadership helps managers understand how they affect those they lead. Bottom-line, if you are a leader, beware that your mood affects the emotional health of others and creates a cultural blueprint for the company.
Emotions are Contagious
University of Pennsylvania’s electronic newsletter Wharton@Work reports that employees in groups are influenced by each others’ moods and can literally catch each others’ emotions, called “emotional contagion”. University of New Hampshire researcher Richard Saavedra agrees. His research shows that a leader’s moods permeate their work groups, strongly influencing employees’ moods, attitudes, and performance through emotional contagion.
This is why one unpleasant person in a department or work-group affects the whole group’s experience. Wharton Professor Sigal Barsade studied the transfer of moods in groups and found that thoughts lead to feelings and feelings lead to thoughts, creating a cycle that is easy to get caught up in when the leader is cold and critical or jovial and friendly. Research shows this is also borne out in the observation of babies’ sensitivity to negative parental emotions.
Examine How You’ve Experienced Emotional Transfer
Think about the last time you had a “bad day” at work, and a work day that left you feeling happy and energized. Now, think about the atmosphere that contributed. Can you trace it back to another person who was either angry or a “downer” or someone who was upbeat and positive? Or, were you the catalyst who had a cloud or rainbows overhead, setting the tone and setting the stage for how others felt and performed? This is emotional contagion in action. It should be no surprise it has real consequences for engagement and productivity.
The Science of Moods and Emotions
Goleman discusses the science behind emotional transfer, studied by New York University’s Caroline Bartel and Richard Saavedra and psychologists Ronald Riggio and Howard Friedman. Studies found that even moods expressed without any verbal exchange are transmitted to others quickly. Good moods are transferred more easily through friendly and appropriate humor, and bad moods are transferred quickly nonverbally with gestures, facial contortions, and body language. Everyone has experienced “the look,” either from parents, bosses, or significant others in their lives.
This transfer of feelings, moods, and emotions has a real physiological basis in the limbic system, the part of the brain that regulates hormones and other organs including the heart. Scientists have observed physical changes in hormone levels, heart rates, and immune functions during emotional transfer.
The implications of emotional contagion for business leaders are valid. They can mean the difference between a productive, engaged workforce or one that struggles with the emotional roller coaster created by a negative and moody boss.
Using Emotional Contagion for Good
“In general, the key is awareness,” says Saavedra, “The most insidious aspect of a negative mood is that, often, it infects you unconsciously.
Leaders who are aware of how their moods and emotions at work affect the people around them can use that information to better manage their emotions and help keep employee feelings balanced. Consciously creating a positive emotional climate and using positive feelings in workplace relationships are wise strategies for leaders to adopt. Overtime, a workplace culture built on positive emotions such as respect, gratitude and compassion will drive employee happiness and profitability.
How does your boss’s mood affect your workplace productivity? How can you be more sensitive to how your mood affects others in the workplace?
To learn more about creating a culture of positivity, download our free guide to harnessing the power of workplace gratitude. Click the image below and start sharing your gratitude today.
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