Updated: Jan 8, 2022
Imagine you are Snow White and your team at work consists of the supporting cast: the seven dwarfs and the wicked queen. Who do you think would endanger the productivity of the group the most? Most people would guess the wicked queen. But, the truth is that the worst character for the team is Grumpy.
Comprehensive research has uncovered a phenomenon collectively termed “emotional contagion.” Simply put, we pick up a degree of the emotions the people around us are experiencing. In other words, moods are contagious. And, the way those moods influence our interactions with others, our behaviors, and even the neurochemistry in the brain are all contagious, too.
In their book Emotional Contagion, researchers Elaine Hatfield, John Cacioppo, and Richard Rapson, defined emotional contagion, a subset of empathy, as: “The tendency to automatically mimic and synchronize facial expressions, vocalizations, postures, and movements with those of another person’s and, consequently, to converge emotionally.” Advances in neuroscience have enabled scientists to actually observe how neurons fire when an action is performed, and, more importantly, how those neurons fire when that same action is observed being performed by another.
This has real implications in the workplace, and we can use it to our advantage or we can let it negatively impact productivity, engagement, and overall company culture. A wealth of research has explored the impact of one simple behavior – requiring no training and no funding – that would increase happiness and productivity at work in mere seconds. That behavior? Smile. The simple act of smiling releases all kinds of good chemicals – dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin – which translates into greater productivity and increased cognitive function. Those chemicals facilitate activity in the prefrontal cortex, or the thinking part of the brain.
In his Forbes post“Why Faking a Smile is Good,” Roger Dooley says, “Pasting a smile on your face, even if it is inauthentic, can improve your mood and reduce stress. We think of our face as reflecting our internal emotions, but that linkage works both ways - we can change our emotional state by altering our facial expression.”
In a 2010 study out of the University of Warwick, researchers confirmed that happiness can increase productivity. The authors found that human happiness has large and positive causal effects on productivity. “Positive emotions invigorate human beings, while negative emotions have the opposite effect…. Happier workers, our research found, were 12 percent more productive. Unhappier workers were 10 percent less productive.”
So, you can choose to be Grumpy or your can choose to be Happy. Just remember, the choice you make will impact the brain chemistry of those around you. Intentionally presenting positive emotions significantly influence the atmosphere and the collective mindset of the people in the room. How do you want to show up? What emotions do you want to spread today?