‘Tis the season of sneezes and sniffles, but ya know what else is contagious? Emotions!
Yes, according to the Emotional Contagion Theory, human beings can spread their emotions to others as well as “catch” them from others. This theory, initially formed by Charles Darwin and later explored further by William James (aka “The Father of American Psychology”), states that human beings synchronize their emotions with the expressed emotions of others around them, whether consciously or unconsciously.
I know what you’re thinking: “Why would we ever want to do that!?!”
Humans are designed to live in community for many reasons. For one, it’s a leftover survival instinct from when we were roaming the Earth dealing with apex predators and other threatening forces of nature. Back then, being a part of a group was a life-or-death reality and that reality still lives in our instinctual “older” brain.
Remember the old saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”? Extensive research in neuroscience has found that we’re neurologically wired to mimic (imitate) others. We have specialized brain cells called mirror neurons that are specifically designed to give us the impulse to “mirror” or mimic the observable behavior of others. We instinctively know that if we behave like others, our chances of becoming part of that group increase significantly. We feel safer and more connected to people who behave as we do.
Why the heck does any of this matter to you?
At the heart of that impulse to mimic is the beginning of empathy, which is the ability to feel what another person feels. Empathy leads to trust. When the people around us — our colleagues, clients, friends and family members trust us, we work and live better together. And, surprise — there is a business perk! People want to work with people they like and trust.
Be conscious of the emotional climate. Take a moment to observe the emotional state of the people around you and adjust when appropriate.
Be aware of the emotions you are “spreading” into the meeting, gathering or situation. You can affect (infect) how people feel.
Be a champion of praise and encouragement. Highlighting good work and good deeds makes people feel better about themselves. Those good vibes have the potential to positively “infect” everyone in the room.
Stick to these three Be’s and make this holiday season one of spreading more joy!