In a recent communication workshop, one participant – we’ll call him Joe Black – comes in late. He sits in the back. I introduce the day. Mr Black says, I’ve done this before. His tone says, You’re all fools. His crossed arms say, I want nothing from you. During the morning, Joachim shoots us critical looks and makes snide remarks. By lunch, we’re grumpy and down. Diagnosis: Joachim has infected us with a case of emotional contagion.
Emotional contagion happens when co-workers “catch other people’s emotions through subconscious mimicry” and think that the emotions are their own. Emotional contagion is the tendency to mimick and synchrnoize facial expressions, vocalizations, postures, and movements automatically. A broader definition of the phenomenon has been suggested by Sigal G. Barsade – “a process in which a person or group influences the emotions or behavior of another person or group through the conscious or unconscious induction of emotion states and behavioral attitudes.”
We need to take emotional contagion seriously. Negativity breaks connections. Hurts performance. If you manage a team, and you worry that the organization is having trouble, or express general fear, anger and anxiety about the economy, your anxiety can spread. Moods can influence our performance and morale as much as words and actions. And moods propagate through the grapevine!
- How are your own negative emotions and unstated negative feelings affecting the people around you?
- Is your non-verbal behavior signalling negativity?
- Is a negative person infecting your team?