Emotional Contagion – When Feelings Go Viral

emotional contagionAre you aware of the extent that your emotions may affect others? Your verbal and face-to-face cues are surprisingly influential in determining the feelings of those who are listening and observing. This phenomenon is known as emotional contagion. It is recognized by behavioral psychologists as a kind of interpersonal influence.

Studies reveal that emotions (either positive or negative) spread among group members like viruses. Emotional contagion often occurs at a subconscious level. In other words, people are unaware that their emotions may have been affected by another person’s mood with whom they are in close contact.

But it goes even deeper than a transfer of emotions. Research by Sigal Barsade has demonstrated that when emotional contagion takes place, the judgment and quality of group decisions are also impacted. Let’s review a study that shows how the emotions of a single person can significantly impact an entire group’s performance.

Business school students were divided into small groups for a simulated management exercise. Each had to role-play a department head advocating for an employee to get a merit-based increase. At the same time, all the students were part of a “salary committee” negotiating how best to allocate a limited amount of bonus money. In essence, they had to balance getting the most for their own candidate, while maximizing the overall benefit to the company. Each group was also seeded with a confederate (an actor) who was trained to convey one of four different mood conditions:

• cheerful enthusiasm
• serene warmth
• hostile irritability
• depressed sluggishness

The researchers were able to identify several effects of emotional contagion. Groups in which the confederate had “spread” positive emotion experienced an increase in positive mood. But the emotional contagion was not limited to a spread of feelings. These groups also displayed more cooperation, less interpersonal conflict, and believed that they had performed better on their task than groups in which negative emotions were spread by the confederate. In addition, groups in which people felt positive emotions made decisions that allocated the available bonus money more equitably.

When the participants were asked why they allocated the funds the way they did, and why they thought their group performed the way it did, they pointed to factors such as their ability to negotiate, or the attributes of the “candidates” they had been assigned. They were completely blind to the fact that their behavior and decisions (and that of their group) had been influenced by the displayed emotion of the confederate.

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Social Influence – A Prime Driver of Workplace Safety

Social InfluenceWe are influenced by the actions of others more than we may care to admit. Many researchers have confirmed that social influence has a powerful effect on our decisions.

We experience many forms of social influence, although we probably don’t think about it.  Perhaps you purchased something after hearing about it from a friend or family member.  Or you may have joined an organization or club because someone you know is one of the members.  Throughout our lives, we have been powerfully persuaded or casually nudged thousands of times to make a decision or take an action because of social influence.

Indeed, the authors of Influencer contend that there are six sources of influence.  They refer to one of these influences as social motivation (although most of us think of this as peer pressure).

Let’s review a recent study by Pedro Gardette of Stanford that supports this concept. He wanted to measure the effect of social influence on the purchasing patterns of airline passengers. Continue reading

How can we increase creativity and engagement?

Many ideasHave you ever been a victim of this circumstance?

Senior leadership issues a clarion call for new ideas.  “We need to generate more revenue!”  Or more likely, “Our costs are too high and we want your input on how to cut our expenses!”  But this is not just any request to submit some ideas into a suggestion box or idea database.  Instead, there is a sense of urgency and perhaps even an expectation that every person contributes.  Groups across the organization are assembled for brainstorming sessions. Perhaps edicts are issued.  “No one can leave the room unless they submit at least 5 ideas.”

What’s the outcome of these sessions?  Often it is disappointing.  Sure, the quantity of ideas is impressive.  But what about the quality?  The same recycled ideas are offered, with nothing offered outside existing paradigms. Continue reading

Do you find Joy in your work?

JoyIt’s a sad truth about the workplace: Just 30% of employees are actively committed to doing a good job.

According to Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report, 50% of employees merely put their time in, while the remaining 20% act out their discontent in counterproductive ways.  These employees are negatively influencing their coworkers, missing days on the job, and driving customers away through poor service. Gallup estimates that the 20% group alone costs the U.S. economy around half a trillion dollars each year.

What’s the reason for the widespread employee disengagement? According to Gallup, poor leadership is a key cause.

Richard Sheridan, Founder of Menlo Innovations, describes an antidote for this lack of enthusiasm.  He claims that “joy” is what is missing from the workplace.  In a recent interview, Sheridan spoke about some of the ways that he purposely designed joy into the way that people work.

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Four Ways to Promote Curiosity and Learning

CuriosityWhat are you curious about?  Do you have a hobby or avocation that captures your interest?  Is there an activity where you willingly devote many hours of your time without any kind of extrinsic reward or compensation?  Most of us can think of something that meets one of these criteria.

We know from experience that we find it easier to learn when the topic is something about which we have a curiosity. Avid hunters can go into great detail about their firearms, ammunition, and strategies for tracking game.  Imagine if we sent one of these hunters to a seminar to learn the latest information about these topics – and then quizzed them on what they learned.  We would be astonished at what they remembered.

Likewise, we could do the same thing with a baseball enthusiast. This person would relish the opportunity to further their understanding of the game at a convention where like-minded fans are gathered.  Their retention of new baseball-related knowledge would be equally impressive.

But what if we sent the hunter to the baseball convention and the baseball fan(atic) to an outdoor show?  We could predict that their respective recalls of any new information would be significantly less.  Why?  In this case, neither individual is intrinsically motivated to learn. (They are not excited to learn just for the sake of learning). Continue reading

Control Plans are not very sexy, but are necessary!

It’s human nature to feel good about effecting positive change.  Perhaps you have removed some unnecessary steps from a process and now it is easier to perform a task.  Or you have modified the way that work was being done and now there is less rework.  Maybe your team has agreed on a more effective way to communicate and share information among various working groups.  It could be that you identified some “critical X’s” to control and now there is less variation in the process.  In any case, making small improvements that have a large effect can produce a great deal of satisfaction.  After all, this is why we invested time and effort – to become better at whatever we do.  It’s time to celebrate!

Unfortunately, improvements can be temporary.  After the team disbands, the process can revert back to the previous condition or people drift back to the old way of doing things.  Without something to prevent this regression, it is only a matter of time before any improvements (and the associated benefits) are in the rear view mirror. In the Lean Six Sigma world, the tool that is most often used to maintain the gains is a Control Plan.  It is the centerpiece of the “C” step in the DMAIC methodology.  A control plan should be used whenever you want to keep hard-won improvements in place.

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