Ever woken up on the wrong side of the bed and realized your funk carried over to your spouse? And children? And the office? Have you ever gotten off a call that upset or frustrated you only to transfer that frustration over to your following meeting? Or how about this one – have you ever come home grumpy from the workday and realized your grumpy bled over to everyone in the family over dinner? Emotions are contagious. How we choose to show up when we engage with others has a direct impact on our accomplishments and overall well-being, as well as on those we love. This knowledge is empowering and actionable. How we show up matters.
The Science Behind Emotional Contagion
Emotional states are highly contagious. This is scientifically proven. And, if we think about it, we’ve probably all seen this play out in some form or another before. Think: mass hysteria, contagious laughter, a campaign rally, a group of disgruntled workers, a charismatic group leader, political news stories, etc.
Emotional contagion is a favorite topic at Brain Basics. We’ve blogged on it before. Psychoanalyst Gerald Schoenewolf defined emotional contagion as “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 or behavioral attitudes.” Note the conscious or unconscious. You see, it can happen to us without us even knowing it. And, we can spread our own cheer – or bah hum bug – proactively or inadvertently.
I love how in this recent Forbes article the author draws the parallel of having the flu and being in a very bad mood when discussing the pitfalls of emotional contagion. He’s basically saying, if you’re in a negative mood, be careful because it is highly transmissible. But, as he points out, we can make the choice to shift the mood, even if it is something as simple as sharing a compliment or pointing out a positive. You have a choice in how you show up in the moment.
The Negative Bias
Chances are this won’t come as a surprise to you: our news (and social media) can be full of negativity. But this may surprise you. Research has shown that watching just three minutes of news coverage in the morning can up your chances of having a bad day by 27%. Yikes. That’s emotional contagion at work. You don’t have to look far to find negative in our modern lives.
The vast majority of the world presents with a predominate “fight” or “I am right” mentality. “I want to be heard.” “I’m here to convince you.” “You need to agree with me.” “You can’t tell me what to do.” The good news is there are a few hacks to overcoming the negative bias we all face from time to time.
Proactive Choices To Protect How You Show Up
Set aside time to determine how you want to show up for the event, phone call, dinner, crucial conversation, etc. BEFORE YOU GET TRIGGERED. I.e. do you want to be kind, loving, pressing, forceful, reassuring, doting, not attached to the outcome, light-hearted, etc. In these moments, ahead of the interaction, what you are doing is being purposeful to your vision of how you will show up. For example, you might say to yourself, “I know Fred is convinced that if we don’t sell the business by year end it will be a mistake. I disagree with him. But today, my goal is simply to discuss the idea of adding the second line of production. I plan to present the numbers tied to this line of production and the plans for the expansion. I know where he stands on selling the business but I choose not to have this discussion today.”
Another example might be one where you are driving home from work weary and anxious. On the way home, decide that you will show up pleasant and positive. Envision a dinner with the family where the conversation is uplifting and engaging, no talk of the angst of the day. That topic is off limits for the evening.
This Isn’t Emotion Suppression or Avoidance
I’m not proposing never dealing with the hard feelings. Stuffing away emotions never works. Emotions are meant to be felt. Acknowledged. Worked through in the brain – in the amygdala specifically. Otherwise, they may come back to haunt you. Avoid a mental hijack by one of the amygdala’s F’s – freeze, flight or fight; do your processing. It’s important to find what works for you. Some tried-and-true emotion-processing tactics include:
- First, no matter what, breathe. Don’t discount the deep belly breathing! Science backs this up. Deep breathing negates stress. It takes back some of the energy you are funneling off to negative emotion. Try deep breathing regularly throughout the day and see what it can do for you.
- Name it. Claim it. Identify your emotions. Acknowledging them is the first step to overcoming negative emotions. This is emotional intelligence 101 and this is a course you want to pass. The key is to own it, then let it go. You don’t want it hanging around all day, simmering and interfering with your interpersonal orbit. It may look like this. I am feeling anxious. It is because I may lose my job. My next step is to make a list of possible next job opportunities and put together some plans for networking. It may also make sense to take inventory of where I could do a better job in my current role and where I could gather honest feedback on my current performance.
- Sitting with Yourself. Sometimes we just need time to sit with ourselves and think. We may not be able to solve it all right then and there but giving ourselves time to process is process. Journaling is a form of sitting with yourself. Meditating is a form of sitting with yourself, too.
- Acknowledge the Positive. And, let’s not forget about the good emotions. They need to be processed, too! When you’ve accomplished something you’re proud of, it needs to be celebrated! Do the celebratory dinner! Buy the reward! Toot your horn! Count your blessings. Inventory gratitude. Feel the good!
Properly processing emotions is a big part of enabling you to show up fully in the next moment. This is a primary component of emotional intelligence. Curious how you can learn more about your measure and acquisition of emotional intelligence? Check out Brain Basics assessment page.
Negative Thrives in Numbers
Humans tend to bond more easily over common negatives. Be prepared to advocate for your positive. “I choose to see it in this light because of X.” “I’m optimistic because of X.” “I’m giving it a chance because of X.” It’s all about making an active decision to be positive, to be optimistic.
None of us are immune to emotional contagion. In group settings, we may find ourselves actively working against a prevailing group sentiment. And, in many cases, a negative group emotion can grow exponentially due to the number of people involved, as will the opportunity for the emotional contagion. Self-awareness is a good tool to tap into in this case. Acknowledge you will be vulnerable. Commit to staying with your path of showing up as you intended.
How Are You Going to Show up?
You’re jumping on a conference call and the stakes are high. You’re walking into a business meeting and have high hopes. You’re beginning a crucial conversation with a disgruntled group. You’ve just wrapped up a challenging day at work and are heading home. You’re simply starting a conversation with your spouse. You’ve got a choice to make. You can choose to leave the negative behind. You can choose to bring positivity. How you show up matters. It will make a difference.
Using personalized coaching techniques, Kathy Walter helps individuals find their own unique paths to showing up optimally. She fosters actionable self-awareness using proven tools like the Emotional Intelligence Assessment and the Energy Leadership Index E.L.I. Assessment. Contact Brain Basics to learn more.