Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Fear and optimism are emotional contagions

Optimistic beliefs are required to drive growth and progress. Negative beliefs will drive fear, and they can spread contagiously. It takes courage to be an optimist. An important role for leadership is to help people overcome their fears and to believe in a positive outcome.

In an Office Hours interview with Dan Pink, I heard Gretchen Rubin talk about happiness and negativity as emotional contagions. On her Happiness Project blog, she defines emotional contagion as follows:
“Emotional contagion” is a strong psychological effect in which we “catch” the happy, sad, or angry moods of others. Someone in a happy, energetic mood will help boost the moods of others, and obviously, this creates a very pleasant atmosphere. Unfortunately, negative moods are more contagious than positive moods; if I’m crabby, I can trigger a wave of crabbiness in my friends.
Emotional intelligence and emotional contagions

CEO Coach Jeremy Robinson equates emotional intelligence with emotional contagion. He says that when he coaches leaders to become more emotionally intelligent, he teaches them to become more positively contagious and less negatively contagious. The most contagious emotions in groups are negative emotions, like fear and anger. He teaches leaders to be powerfully positive to people around them and themselves and to contain their own negative emotions. He also teaches them to become more immune to negative contagions of others.

Mirror neurons and emotional contagion

Neuroscientists have recently discovered that empathy is driven by mirror neurons that are located in the frontal cortex of your brain. These neurons fire in the same way whether you're watching someone do something or when you actually do the same thing yourself. You can watch a segment on NOVA that describes the research: Mirror Neurons.

In a video on YouTube, Karen Ellis describes how mirror neurons in our brains pick up subtle social cues and the implications for leadership. Yawning and giggling are contagious as a result of our mirror neurons. Emotional states in an organization are also contagious. The more status that you have in an organization, the more your moods will affect other people. People mirror what they see at the top, and so it is common that an organizational culture will mirror the personality of the boss.

Watch Leadership and social emotions by Performance1 on YouTube:

Have you ever seen a leader whose emotion is contagious?