Emotions are contagious

Leaders need to understand the way emotions can spread through an organisation – the effectiveness of your team depends on it.

At breakfast this past week, a client and I were discussing the impact that a few people with negative attitudes were having in their organisation.


We have all been at events and meetings or worked in organisations where a person with a happy outlook makes others feel good about what they are doing too (and on the flip side where a really negative person bought others around them down).


An emotion is a bit like a virus – we can be spreading it around without even realising it. In the somewhat closed environments of our organisations, that virus – good or bad – can move with amazing speed.


To quote Melissa Bayne and Joshua Freedman from their white paper “One person’s emotions are affected by others. This effect is called ‘emotional contagion’ and provides important insight into why we must, and how to, manage emotions…”


It is no surprise to anyone that research shows groups of people will pick up on the emotional cues from others and subconsciously mimic them (good and bad). Research also shows that the mood of leaders has a proportionally greater influence on other group members’ moods, and also a flow-on impact on the group’s coordination and effort.


So if we want to build a happy environment with happy people, a happy leader will be a great place to start. But beyond that, seeing we are all affecting others with our emotions, whether we are aware of it or not, at an individual level we can start by being more conscious of the impact our mood has on those around us.


It also seems that all moods are not created equal. Something I found surprising in another research paper I reviewed is that there are situations when a “bad mood” can be helpful for a group, particularly with respects to decision-making. The “bad mood” providing an environment for more a structured approach than when people are in a “good mood”.


Still, even with that being the case, overall people are happier, more cooperative, less prone to conflict and more focused when surrounded by others who are happy and positive. And the best way to cultivate a positive environment, is to proactively make people aware of the impact of their moods on others – in effect, by building some “emotional intelligence” into the organisation.


See you next week.



Alignment is Michel’s passion. Through her work with Brandology here in Australia, and Brand Alignment Group in the United States, she helps organisations align who they are, with what they do and say to build more authentic and sustainable brands.

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