When you want to rise in the workplace, there are a few unavoidable must-do’s: you want to make sure you do your best work, that you’re reliable, that you’re a team player, and that you‘re thought of as a valuable asset.

But there is an additional crucial ingredient that is so obvious it’s almost stupid to mention and yet so many of us fail to give it the import it requires. 

The secret ingredient? 

Be someone people want to be around. 

But how do you make sure you are someone people want to be around? This comes down to emotional contagion.

Emotional contagion is a simple concept: our moods affect the moods of those around us. 

We are emotional sponges.

We’ve all been around someone who has a spirited, buoyant, fun personality. We feel happy around them. Conversely, when we are around someone negative, pessimistic and cynical, we typically walk away feeling worse than when we did before we encountered them. 

Emotions can spread like wildfire in the workplace. One angry, critical, and nasty person can bring down the whole team. By the same token, one joyful, supportive, and lovable person can lift the whole team up. 

In the workplace, people’s moods impact decision-making, problem-solving, attention/focus, interpersonal interactions, performance, productivity, and the whole organizational culture.

Even if you are amazing at what you do, if you’re negative or difficult to be around, it will impact your ability to be promoted or your ability to succeed in your new role.

You may get the promotion, but whether or not you can influence those around you or those you lead, will come down to attitude.  

And you’re not off the hook if you and/or your company work remotely. Emotions can spread through emails and texts just as easily as in-person.

Everyday people compose a hasty email or type a quick reply to an IM, hitting “send” before they contemplate how certain words and tones and emphases might affect the recipient. 

Note the difference between “Please bring me the Doolittle contract” and “PLEASE BRING ME THE DOOLITTLE CONTRACT!” 

Researchers have been looking into the underlying processes that account for remote emotional contagion, but some preliminary findings support the idea that in the absence of conventional nonverbal cues, we look for other sorts of cues (the emphasis conveyed by boldface, italics, and CAPS, smiley faces, and punctuation marks!).

Such cues can ignite emotional contagion just as surely as face-to-face human emotion can. 

So, where do you start with being on the positive side of emotional contagion?

  1. Check your mood before entering the office. What’s going on in your head? Are you fighting with someone or the world in general? Make no mistake: that will create an aura around you and your colleagues will pick up on it.
  2. Contain your outbursts. Your anger doesn’t have to be directed at your coworkers for them to be negatively affected by it. Slamming your phone down, venting out loud to yourself or someone else on the phone, shouting obscenities to yourself out of frustration. That’s all contagious and it can have an unintentional impact on those around you.
  3. Employ positive e-communication. Every email, IM, or text you send can either irritate or please the recipient. Never forget the little courtesies and pleasantries, such as “please” and “thank you” and even “Hello.” Think of yourself on the receiving end of an email and what you’d want to receive, as well as what you might interpret as off-putting.
  4. Lighten the mood. If you think you have spread some negative emotions into the workplace, see if you can spread some humor in its place. Don’t force it but laughter is a great healing force and can quickly erase the effect of the negative emotion.
  5. Own it. If you’ve been in a bad place or if you’ve had a difficult day and haven’t done a great job regulating around others, own it and speak up about it. Being appropriately vulnerable is a very likable and relatable quality that naturally makes others warm up to you. It’s like a negative-emotional-contagion potion.

The important thing to remember is it all starts with you. If you frown at someone they’re going to carry that frown with them into their next interaction. Conversely, if you smile at someone you’re likely to lift their spirit.

In fact, happiness and sadness – as contrived as this might seem – have a lot to do with our facial expressions. We can literally change our mood depending on our expressions.

As elementary as this sounds – and it’s certainly not an emotional panacea – smiles beget happiness and frowns beget sadness.

Which means it’s crucial we vigilantly watch our minds and our emotional state. If you feel incapable of snapping yourself out of your negative mental state, here is a little trick:

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a cognitive neuroscientist and educational psychologist, suggests that if you feel sad or annoyed, hold a pen or pencil crosswise in your mouth to simulate a smile. Yes, it sounds silly, but it works because doing so activates your smile muscles.

So, if you feel out of sorts when you get to work, perhaps consider finding a private area to smile like an idiot for a few minutes.

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