Teaching your team to navigate negativity


Have you noticed how quickly one person’s negative attitude can spread? Just like the common cold, a negative mood can be picked up by others in the team, sometimes even across the entire company. It’s not just your imagination.

Research suggests that moods are contagious, and that the people around you can have an enormous impact on the way you feel. Those effects appear to be even more powerful in teams, due to their high level of interdependence. This is likely to mean that if mood contagion is not well managed, it can influence effectiveness in your environment.

Mood contagion may also have an effect on turnover. One study showed that people who reported having ‘de-energising colleagues’ were twice as likely to quit, with the effect particularly strong among that organisation’s top talent.

Mood contagion occurs because we have a tendency to mimic the non-verbal behaviours – such as facial expressions and postures – of others, which can allow moods to be transferred across groups. One study from Harvard University found that long-lasting moods can spread over large groups, through direct and indirect contact and bad moods appear to be slightly more infectious.

The good news is, you can reduce the impact of a negative mood in the workplace and prevent your staff picking up on one another’s bad mood. What’s more, managers who understand mood contagion can actually use it to their advantage. By instilling and modelling positive moods, you can create a more positive team dynamic, which can help increase performance and decrease staff turnover.

Dealing with negativity in your team

It’s important to understand that people don’t leave their feelings at home, and some decisions made in the workplace could be driven by emotion rather than logic.

If you become aware of negativity amid your team, try talking to those who appear to be involved, as these people may not realise how they are being perceived, or how much their mood is affecting the team.

If this is not possible, or doesn’t appear to help, please consult the appropriate people and policies in your organisation to help manage the situation.


Helping positive moods catch on

As a manager, you’re in charge of setting the emotional climate of the workplace, so keep in mind that employees pay great attention to their managers’ emotions. These tips may help:

  • Create an environment where emotions are encouraged to be shared in a constructive and respectful manner, which can help maintain a supportive culture within the team. Be aware of your non-verbal cues. Most emotional contagion is spread by body language, facial expression and tone.
  • Don’t fake it. If you are unhappy but trying to convey a positive mood, your employees will probably see through you. So if you are struggling with your own emotions, take time to process them before meetings or key interactions with staff. Writing about how you feel can be an effective way to understand your emotions and change your attitude.
  • While it’s important to be optimistic, avoiding or denying difficult situations isn’t helpful either. Try to balance realism and optimism where you can. And don’t forget to reach out for help and support from loved ones or healthcare professionals when you need it.

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