Do You Feel What I Feel?

Vibes. We all know what they are – when we walk into the kitchen at home and someone has had a ‘frot’ day, or when a work project has gone pear-shaped – and the team is mired in disappointment. The moods and attitudes of people in any environment are infectious and can go viral faster than a group whatsapp message. Think of the way you feel when you walk into home affairs or Telkom, compared to the energy and enthusiasm you experience in an iStore.

I am fascinated by the concept of Mood Contagion: ‘the unconscious transfer of mood between individuals which is thought to occur as a result of individuals’ tendency to mimic others’ non verbal behavior, cueing the target to experience the mood that he or she is mimicking.’ (Johnson, S.A. 2009)

Some people are definitely more vulnerable to this (largely unconscious) phenomenon than others. They get tearful when others are crying and struggle to shake their sadness afterwards; they are quickly lifted by the warm smile or laugh of a stranger, and they get tense when they hear a quarrel or recognize tension between others. Dr Sherrie Bourg Carter makes the statement: ‘Emotions are contagious: Choose your companions wisely.’ I would like to propose a corollary – Emotions are contagious: What type of companion will you be?

Research is showing that coaching on mood management and emotional expression is one of the best investments that can be made for productivity and delivery in the work place. We all know leaders who have handled crises well – communicating clearly, setting a safe and productive tone, and keeping everyone focused. The fascinating part is that those who influence are largely unconscious of what they are doing, as are those who are being influenced.

If you are like me and would like to challenge and manage yourself to be a healthy mood catalyst, here are five thoughts:

  1. The emotions and mood I bring to my personal relationships, workplace (and even my nation!) are as important as my intellectual or professional skills, especially if I am a leader.
  2. At home, at work, and in society, my mood impacts others. This has a direct influence on their actions, reactions, choices, creativity and productivity. I need to train myself to be aware of my mood. I can’t work on what I haven’t noticed!
  3. I can intentionally improve group relationships/ team dynamics/ workplace culture by modelling warmth, vulnerability and realistic optimism. There is always a hopeful, empowering and redemptive version of the story - that can be a foundation for action going forward.
  4. Negativity spreads fast and is toxic. It blocks objectivity and actively draws on previous negative memories. I can short circuit discouragement and negativity by avoiding negative body language and facial expressions, and by checking and lifting my attitude before interacting with others, especially after a negative event.
  5. Authenticity and genuineness are paramount. I can’t fool myself or others for long. I need to grow in self-awareness and do the daily, personal, internal work needed to be a healthy mood catalyst. I think the benefits far outweigh the cost!


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