Can’t fight this feeling….are you aware of emotional contagion?

Rosanna Machado | October 20, 2020


Last week, whilst managing a virtual green room, I was struck by the fact that the most important thing in that moment was still human connection and not the technology – how I connected with the speakers, how I put them at ease, reassured them, made them smile and got them in the best mindset. I wanted to infect them with my positive energy.

And we shouldn’t underestimate the infectious nature of emotions, known as emotional contagion. In a study by Harvard Medical and Business School, when three people were put in a room, it took less than two minutes for the most emotionally excitable person (positive or negative) to affect the other two people, whether they said a word or not. Evidence also suggests that negative emotions are more contagious than positive emotions.

What does this mean for us?

We need to be self-aware and understand our own emotions. If we think about emotions as data and acknowledge them, we have a much healthier relationship with them and can think about micro and macro strategies to process the difficult ones. I heard this described beautifully as being an emotional scientist – exploring your emotions with curiosity and trying different strategies.

Where we do have a choice, we can be more mindful about how and where we spend our time. Emotional contagion is equally true in the digital world, so think about how your consumption of social media is affecting you emotionally. Surround yourself, where possible, with people that are having a positive impact in your life and think about how to remove yourself or process situations, that are not healthy for your own well-being.

When interacting with others, be aware of the effect that your emotions will have on others. We want to be authentic and it can be difficult to leave your emotions at the door when you get to work, but we can think about the impact we will have on others and empathise with what they might need from us. Think about how to connect with people in the most meaningful way. Be aware of group dynamics and how negativity can spread through a team. Often discussing these issues before they escalate can be helpful. Encourage an honest, open and respectful culture. Think about when conversations are better on a one-to-one basis versus group to ensure that individuals get what they need from the conversation.

I have always been aware of the impact of my emotions on others, but I used to suppress my negative emotions and radiate positivity and whilst that had its benefits, I was often ridden with internal stress and anxiety. I still aspire to be a positive beacon whilst showing empathy to others but now with a healthier awareness of what I need to do and how I need to process my emotions in a way that is best for my well-being.