Catching Feelings – Emotional Contagion and Your Team

Learn how to manage the mood in your business for a happier, more effective team

When hiring new staff, a lot of thought can go into considering whether the person is going to be a good cultural fit. Ideally, you’ll seek out team players who are going to represent your company in the most positive way. After jumping this hurdle, the next challenge is managing their continued motivation and attitude. To do this, it can help to be aware of the concept of emotional contagion.

What is emotional contagion?

Have you ever worked with someone who lit up the room just by turning up? These people tend to lift the mood in a group just by interacting in their habitually positive way. On the flip side, you may have worked with someone who was known for being a downer – miserable, complaining, perhaps even aggressive at work – and this person lowered the overall vibe of the place. This is known as ‘emotional contagion’ or ‘group feel’ – the process in which an individual’s attitudes are influenced by other team members’ emotions.

This contagiousness is a result of our social evolution as humans. They are a way for our brains to learn quickly how to respond to our surroundings. Have you ever noticed that if you see a group of people laughing – even if you don’t know what they’re laughing at – you automatically smile and laugh along? This is a classic example of emotional contagion in practice – and a behaviour you would want to promote in the workplace.

Within a team environment, you can sometimes see the mood of the team changing in response to the mood of one or two influential team members. This can be as simple as feeling a little grumpier about getting your current task completed, to larger, more disruptive feelings of unhappiness towards the company.

What does this mean for your team?

Emotional contagion is stronger between individuals in established groups, such as in workplaces, where shared feelings can shape team culture.

A positive team culture has been found to be a common feature of high-performing teams, with individuals demonstrating better attitudes and work performance. In contrast, negative team cultures can result in dissatisfied staff, increased staff turnover and ultimately, time and money lost to the business.

With so much at stake, it’s important to consider what impact one employee’s emotions can have on your wider work culture.

Can this happen with field technicians?

Despite a lack of physical proximity, emotional contagion can still occur with your staff out on the road. Emotions can be spread with any engagement your staff have with each other and in particular, the interactions they have with management.

Tools for communication such as social media, phone calls and emails all act as conduits for sharing emotion. Subtle nonverbal cues on these mediums such as tone of voice or inflection are influential in communicating how someone is feeling. Whether it is your staff talking amongst themselves on social media about how work is going, or receiving a call from the office about their next job, these interactions will be conveying feelings. So, even in a dispersed team, emotional contagion may still be influencing your individual staff members’ mentality and overall work environment.

Managers’ moods are particularly ‘contagious’

In general, team members will pay closer attention to the emotions and moods of members of management. Team leaders’ positive moods have been found to have a larger impact in increasing individual team members’ moods and the overall group tone.

So, it’s important that business owners, and those they place in management or supervisory positions, are aware of the importance of maintaining a positive emotional state.

How can you make use of emotional contagion?

Now that you know how emotional contagion can affect your business, you can try some of the behaviours listed below to contribute to a positive team culture:

  1. Be aware of your own emotions and what emotions you are spreading when you interact with others. If you’re in a management position, you are setting the emotional tone for your workplace.
  2. Use open body language. Emotional contagion is not limited to words only.
  3. Focus on using open and positive language. Speak to what can be done, rather than what can’t.
  4. Establish company values and refer to them often. See the article written by AroFlo’s founder and CEO on the importance of establishing core values.
  5. Be attentive to the first signs of trouble. If someone seems unhappy, talk to them about how you can help. Don’t let conflict escalate.

Make sure all your managers and supervisors are aware of these techniques, and make practising them a daily part of your company’s approach to management.

Author – Leanne Velcich
Customer Service and Technical Support

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