THE BLOG

Conversational Intelligence: Emotional Contagion

09/09/2013 04:34 pm ET | Updated Nov 09, 2013

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Your emotions influence others

(Written in collaboration with Zandra Harris)

The concept of emotional contagion includes the influence of one person's emotions on another. At work, employees tend to mimic the leader's behaviors. We-centric leaders have a positive contagious effect as they attract the energetic spirit in others for performing at their best -- naturally. Leaders and strong personalities can have a positive or negative emotional contagious effect on an individual's thoughts, attitude and behavior (TAB). A single interaction is capable of having a rippling effect, shifting a person's TAB from negative to positive energy.

For example, during a focus group, an employee felt incompetence -- uninspired and emotionally drained when working for a leader who emitted negative energy. The leader had an unwelcoming attitude and made negative comments about the employees' work. However, the employee's feelings shifted to enthusiasm when a new leader took charge. This leader's words were encouraging, his attitude was pleasant, and his positive energy put people at ease. While the leader challenged the employee, he also expressed trust in her capabilities.

Ripple Effect
Leaders' emotional contagion impact continues once people leave work. The impact is neurochemical, and creates a shift in the person's mood states, which become stored in the subconscious mind and carry a vibrating energy.

Case in Point: An employee suffered from migraines when reporting to a pessimistic, dictatorial leader. When the employee changed jobs and worked with an encouraging and understanding leader, she attributed the migraines to working in a negatively led workplace.

The brain contains about 100 billion neurons, each capable of connecting with other neurons. Clusters of neurons create neural networks working together in the brain and enable learning and remembering. Neural networks fuel the mind and stimulate the brain.

Dispenza describes the mind as the brain in action. When information is received, it gets processed in the emotional area of the brain, the limbic system, containing the hippocampus and amygdala. The hippocampus transforms experiences into stored memories, remembering the emotions associated with the experience, and the positive or negative facts. The subconscious mind links new experiences with recorded facts. The amygdala, the brain's emotional center, gauges the strength and intensity of an emotion and the level of attitude and behavioral response.

Acts of attitude and behavior are the physical manifestation of emotional responses to thoughts and feelings. Thoughts, attitudes and behaviors carry an energy that can be contagious, attracting the same energy source in others. Leaders' awareness of the power associated with positivity and negativity is at the core of creating a We-centric culture. A focus of the Creating "WE" Institute is to equip leaders to strengthen the intuitive sense in recognizing the difference between positive and negative thinking and the associated emotional contagion impact. Once we understand how we think, we introduce the skills and practices of Conversational Intelligence -- which enable us to "navigate with others" through our human and often emotional states. Leaders who learn to harness emotional energy and engage people in transformational conversations are becoming the most valued leaders across all business sectors globally.

Catalyzing Healthy Emotional Contagion
The conscious mind retrains how the limbic system interprets emotional experiences. Mindful awareness enables leaders to recognize the positive or negative energy impact on others. Positive energy generates commitment, inclusion, creativity, selflessness, and appreciation (We-centric environment); negative energy generates fear, exclusion, arrogance, selfishness, dominance, and lack of appreciation.

Healthy Mindfulness
Conversational Intelligence, How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results, introduces seven characteristics that provide a library of positive and negative reference tools. Use it as a springboard to become mindful of your thoughts, words, and actions and to have a more positive impact on the work environment. Leaders who derail reflect the negative behaviors; those who succeed reflect the positive behaviors.

The seven dimensions represented as derailers and success factors:

Co-creating community. Derailer behaviors are excluding -- dictatorship, impatience, and limiting employee contribution. Success factor behaviors are including and co-creating -- open communication, employees involved in strategy planning and co-creating the future.
Humanity and healthy interpersonal relationships. Derailer behaviors are judging and blaming -- critical of others, creating fear of the potential for mistakes; Success factor behavior is appreciating -- healthy interpersonal relationships; valuing the contributions of others; trust, openness and candor; respect individual talent; value diversity.
Aspiring and achieving high performance. Derailer behavior is overt or covert threats, intimidation and pressure to achieve goals; Success factor behavior is striving to achieve high aspirations, high performance -- openness to imagination to achieving goals.
Navigating. Derailer behavior is withholding -- creating boundaries and roadblocks, making others feel restricted. Success factor behaviors are sharing -- openness and collaboration with others.
Generating. Derailer behavior is knowing -- self-indulgent, using knowledge as power against others, causing others to give in. Success factor behavior is wondering -- nurturing innovation, which leads to inspired breakthroughs.
Expressing. Derailer behaviors are dictating -- dogmatic about compliance and status quo. Success factor behavior is developing others -- allowing them to speak up and express their voice; take risks to develop themselves and others.
Spirit. Derailer behavior is conforming -- using force to keep others in-line. Success factor behavior is enthusiastically celebrating success -- engaging others in creating benchmarks for success;celebrating achievements and developing a spirit of reinvention.

Each characteristic provides distinct variations of positive and negative aspects such as those found in the Community characteristic; positive leaders view themselves as members of the team; negative leaders' view is being in-charge of the team. The leader's ability to master communicating and living the attributes of the positive attribute creates a culture naturally performing to its highest potential. These characteristics are intended to prime the leaders' thought process for positivity. It takes practice in positive thinking to become embedded in the leaders' DNA.

Conversational Intelligence (C-IQ) tips

Eight Steps to Positive Change
• Wear a smile, it is contagious.
• Be clear on who you are and what you stand for.
• Use words that inspire, encourage, and motivate.
• See the positive and negative side to everything, and practice adapting to the positive.
• Practice being consciously in control of your emotional state, creating opportunity to choose a positive action.
• When interacting with others, stay open; it allows for listening to new possibilities and provides positives responses.
• Practice making positive statements, avoiding the words not, no, and can't.
• Use negative situations as an opportunity for strengthening mindful awareness

What Can Leaders Do!
Leaders are in a position to bring vision, understanding, clarity, and agility to the environment and create a positive momentum for change. Meeting the challenge requires not only a positive mindset, but to also consistent mindfulness of shifts in his/her emotional state when interacting with others. It is then that leaders trigger emotions that either stimulate or dampen behaviors--many times at the subconscious level. A leader's ability to intentionally channel positivity contributes to developing a healthy, productive, and harmonious workplace.

Judith E. Glaser, CEO Benchmark Communications, Inc. & Chairman of the Creating WE Institute; Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results by Judith E. Glaser (BiblioMotion - Forthcoming October 2013; Pre-order now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble); www.creatingwe.com; www.conversationalintelligence.com

Zandra Harris is an executive at Lockeed Martin, a college facilitator, and organizational team leader.