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Do You Think Your Emotions Are Contagious?

Posted January 8, 2020 • Change,Emotional Intelligence,Mindfulness,Organizational Culture • by Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler, Ph.D.


A few weeks ago, we considered the idea that our emotions may have seasonal cadences, just like the weather and workflow. This week, we’ll take a look at how our moods impact our relationships and our outcomes–at work, at home, and in the world.

Are Your Emotions Contagious?

People don’t talk much about “mood” when it comes to leadership. Conversations about mood are more likely to be found in women’s magazines and books about alternative medicine.

But your mood impacts your ability to lead effectively. This is equally true whether you’re in a position of formal leadership or you simply have informal power on a team, group, or organization of any kind.

I’ll never forget the coaching work I did many years ago with Thomas, the Chief Operating Officer of a fast-growing, innovative healthcare company. As my colleagues and I routinely do, toward the start of my coaching work with Thomas, I conducted in-depth interviews with a number of Thomas’ colleagues—including his direct reports, his peers, and the CEO, who was Thomas’ manager. I asked them what they saw as Thomas’ strengths and also what they felt he could do differently to lead as effectively as possible at the company.

As I listened to them talk about Thomas’ work and leadership, I started noticing what seemed to me at the time to be an odd theme: each of them talked about his mood. The comments ranged from “Thomas just seems off lately” to “It’s like there’s a dark cloud following him wherever he goes.”

When I heard the first couple of comments about Thomas’ mood, I listened, but didn’t think much of it. After the third or fourth person mentioned it, I noted that Thomas’ emotional state was a theme worth considering. The people who worked with Thomas were clearly impacted by it. They seemed to miss the “old Thomas” who had shown an interest in them, who had routinely done simple but caring things, like asking how their day was going.

Your Mood Impacts Your Relationships and Your Outcomes

We don’t often consider the impact of our emotional states on our own well-being, never mind on the day-to-day experiences that others have throughout their days.

We rarely make the connection between our moods and our ability to achieve the results we’re seeking at work, at home, and in the world.

I’ve never seen an organization include “Mood” as a performance metric on an End-of-Year Performance Review. The idea of rating each other on our moods may even seem silly.

But think about it: our moods impact not only other people’s experiences of their interactions with us. Our moods impact the results we are able to achieve. When we’re in a calm or joyful state, conversations flow more easily, and good ideas come more naturally. When we’re in a tense, depressed or anxious state, conversations can become difficult, and good ideas are harder to come by.

Your Mood Matters

Simply put, your mood matters. And often, it matters more than you think it does.

So, what if you’re not in a good mood, and you lead a team?

I’m not suggesting that we should all start walking around with painted smiles on our faces, pretending to be feeling something we’re not. For example, if you’re feeling sad, or you’re grieving, that’s okay. The best thing you can do may be to allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling.

I am suggesting that we pay attention to our moods, and notice the costs we may pay when our less-than-inspired moods spread to the people with whom we live and work. And particularly when we’re trying to lead ourselves and others to achieve great things, consider how we can “generate” our moods to help us develop the relationships, and the results, we desire.

Here are 3 simple ways to do this:

  1. Pay attention to your own moods. What are your moods like throughout the day? Do your moods tend to follow a certain cadence (for example, are you generally chipper at the start of the day, and tired or sluggish by the end of the day? Or do your days tend to start in a serene state, spike with positive energy around lunchtime, and then dip into frustration in the late afternoon)? It could be helpful to keep a simple log of your moods for a few days or a couple of weeks in a row. Do you notice a daily or weekly pattern?
  2. Pay attention to the impact your moods may be having on the people around you—whether at work, at home, or in the community—and the outcomes you’re able to achieve as a result. Have you ever gotten direct feedback from other people about your moods? If so, what did people tell you? If not, what is your sense of the impact your moods may be having on others? Are there times you’ve noticed your mood impacting others either in an uplifting way or in a dispiriting way? What results are you able to achieve when your moods impact others the way they do?
  3. Experiment with the idea that you can “generate” your own moods. Set an intention for your moods each day. Ask yourself at the start of each day, “What emotions would I like to generate today?” Then consider what actions you can take in order to generate those. Would it help to exercise? Eat more or less, or different types of foods altogether? Will you spend time with certain people but not others? Listen to music at certain points of the day? Go to sleep at a certain time? Go outdoors and get some fresh air to deal with the afternoon dip? Challenge yourself to take the actions that will help create the emotional states you desire.

As December comes to a close and the new year approaches, it is an excellent time to experiment with noticing your moods and the impact they have on those around you, and to test out generating the moods you would like to create. Practice at home, and then bring what you’ve learned to work in the new year.

Your family or colleagues may wonder what’s gotten into you. Just tell them you gave yourself the new year’s gift of generating your moods, and invite them to try it with you!

 I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, and if you do experiment, to hear how it goes. Others in the community will benefit from your thoughts, questions, and experiences too.

I know there are a lot of great people who are up to amazing work reading this, and I’d love to begin a community dialogue about these ideas. I look forward to being in conversation with you.

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