Unbeknownst to “Charlie,” a manager in a large financial organization, his direct reports would have a secret meeting every morning just after he arrived at the office – to discuss nothing other than Charlie’s mood.
After a few of them had initial interactions with him first thing in the morning, the team would gather quickly to discuss Charlie’s disposition. Most often he was irritable and demanding. His staff would rally their support for one another and vow to be available when his inevitable outbursts came. The team knew all too well that, left unchecked, Charlie’s bad mood would make for a universally miserable day for all of them.
Charlie apparently had not idea of how much his emotions were visible to others. Nor did he understand that they were, in fact, contagious.
Those who study the phenomenon call this “emotional contagion,” noting that much like contagious diseases, our emotions tend to rub off on others and impact their moods.
Research on emotional contagion plots mood on two continua – valence and intensity. Valence is whether the mood is positive or negative. Intensity is the degree to which the mood is outwardly visible and receptive by others.
Depression, for example, has a negative valence and low intensity (meaning people are not likely to become depressed from hanging around someone who is depressed). Anger, which also has a negative valence and has a high intensity so it is more likely to rub off or be contagious to those who are around others who are angry. They will be more likely to become irritable and impatient, not unlike Charlie.
Emotional contagion hit the headlines last year when a study of Facebook’s intentional manipulation of Facebook users’ moods had been conducted in the name of research in 2012. That story, undoubtedly cast a shadow on the concept.
Emotional contagion exists whether we like it or not. I don’t think the question is “is it ethical or right to manipulate other’s moods?” The fact is, we do. The question instead becomes “how can we impact one another’s moods for the greater good?” That greater good may be in our communities, in our families and in the workplace.
And, as the research shows (see articles below), in the workplace, a “good mood” or “happiness” may not be the most strategic mood to set loose in the workplace.
The next time you think you are checking your mood at the door when you come into work, think again. Yes, your mood is showing.