Have you noticed that the emotional environment at work is very contagious? Whether it is enthusiasm or irritation, we literally catch each other’s emotions at work. It is amazing how emotions, both positive and negative, actually spread among people like viruses. It’s like catching a cold. Before you know it, everybody around is sniffling.
This phenomenon is popularly known as “emotional contagion”, in which one person’s emotions transfer to another. It involves all types of emotions, from angry, sad and fearful to happy, enthusiastic and joyful. In fact, one person's anxiety and panic can spread like a virus at a very subconscious level.
Have you ever considered, how many such emotions, you might be absorbing every day?
A good question is, why are we so prone taking on other people’s moods at work? What happens at a subconscious level? The answer is simple. Many offices, just as homes, are designed to be “open spaces”. Everyone basically shares the same area and therefore get affected by each other’s emotions, without even knowing it.
You can hear people talking, complaining, gossiping, expressing discontent and so much more, all through the day. All this means nonstop sensory stimulation. Such constant connection makes us so much more vulnerable to taking on other people's stress subconsciously. And this has the capacity to significantly influence our judgement, our decisions and even our ability to produce - without even having a clue of what’s actually going on.
So, what lessons do need to learn as leaders, as we try to create positive and productive work spaces?
Leadership lesson #1
Recognise that the emotions people bring to work are as important as their cognitive skills. Ask the critical question: "How are my people feeling on a daily basis?". Notice the general feeling running among individuals and teams. Is that of trust and openness, or is it of mistrust and defensiveness?
Leadership lesson #2
The key is to create awareness that negative emotions spread fast and that they are highly toxic. Help people understand how other’s emotional states are affecting them and how to take care of themselves when needed. It is also important to keep your own negative emotions in check and avoid negatively impacting others.
Leadership lesson #3
Identify what culture and emotional climate do you want to encourage and consciously create in the long term. Determine the quality of conversations you would like your people to build. Focus on developing skills for more sensitive and collaborative conversations. Invest in building your team/organisations core emotional abilities.
Leadership lesson #4
Lastly, learn that authenticity matters because we can’t fake positivity for long. It is possible to put on a “game face” — but eventually truth tends to emerge, and usually in the most toxic ways. Be open and transparent. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. It’s wonderful to be real and it's okay to have emotions!
Let’s allow the spirit of discovery, passion, authenticity and joy to go “viral”. It’s time to take charge of reducing emotional toxicity. If not now, when?