Your susceptibility to catching the mood of others

Can you think of someone who alters your mood when you’re around them? 

Whenever I am feeling flat, I often call one of my closest friends.  Not to talk about why I’m feeling flat, but because I know that when I’m in their presence, their mood has a significant positive impact on me.  This friend of mine is energetic, positive and supportive. I know that when I finish a conversation with them I feel much lighter, happier and have more positive outlook.

In a recent blog How Passing the Buck can lead to a toxic workplace culture, I shared the outcomes of research that shows how blame is contagious and can spread like wildfire in the workplace.  This phenomenon is known as social contagion.  It got me thinking about other behaviour contagions, like mood, an “emotional contagion”. I questioned how our mood can impact others and how susceptible we are to “catching” the mood of others and in turn how this can alter the “feel” of a team or more broadly the workplace.

I reflected on workplaces I have previously worked, and the workplaces of clients I have visited.  I remember one workplace in which I had worked many years ago. The team was generally happy, and we worked well together.  The mood was often light and positive. We welcomed a new team member into our small team. Within a month, the new staff member started to shut down conversations very quickly, question why each person would take a certain approach to tasks, would show jealously, anger and would sometimes storm out of the office and slam the door behind her.  She was a Negative Nancy.  Her mood significantly impacted the teams’ mood.  The office would become quiet, and the previous noise of chatting and a state of happiness would be taken over by heads down and the sound of typing.

So, how does an individual’s mood impact the mood of others?

In R.W.Doherty (1997) article, The emotional contagion scale: a measure of individual differences, Journal of non-verbal behaviour, Doherty refers to numerous research, and specific reference to Darwin 1872, that supports the thesis that emotions appear to be contagious.  More interesting however is that some people are more susceptible to catching the mood/emotions of others.  

If you’re more affected by high-intensity emotional reactions, you are especially prone to vicarious emotional responding
— Eisenberg et al, 1991

Research carried out by Hatfield, E., Cacioppo, J., & Rapson, R. L identifies those as being more susceptible to emotional contagion are those who:

  • Observe others and can pick up on emotional expressions;

  • Rather than identifying themselves as individual and unique, perceive themselves as integrated with others;

  • Adopt the facial, postural and vocal expressions of others;

  • Are powerfully influenced by emotional peripheral feedback.

How can we measure our susceptibility to catching the mood of others?

The Emotional Contagion Scale, referred to and explained in R.W Doherty’s article, measures a variety of feelings and behaviours in various situations.  The higher you score on the scale, the more susceptible you are to unintentionally catch the emotions from exposure to others’ behaviour.  The scale focuses on 4 emotions: Love, Happiness, Fear, Anger, Sadness.  If you have a high score in the happiness items, you are more susceptible to catching happiness from a ‘happy’ individual.  If you score low in ‘anger’, the less susceptible you are to catching the emotion of anger from an ‘angry’ individual. Intrigued, I completed the test and identified that I am more susceptible to catching the mood of happiness and anger, and less susceptible to catching the mood of sadness.  My takeaway… when I need a pep up, surround myself with happy people. As I’m susceptible to catching the emotion of anger, I need to stay away from individuals in an angry mood.

Want to understand your susceptibility to catching emotion emitted by others?

To use the self-report scale used to measure individual differences in susceptibility to converge toward the emotions expressed by others, simply answer the 15 questions presented in the link Emotional Contagion Scale_Doherty

Understanding how other peoples’ mood’s impact our own is an important self-awareness process.  Understanding how your mood could potentially impact those members of your team may just get you to re-think about how you walk through the door in the morning.

To understand more about avoiding blame and accepting responsibility, connect with me.  

Want to share this knowledge with your colleagues or clients at your next conference? Or maybe you’d like to workshop it with your team? I have created workshops and presentations with impact on blame & accepting responsibility. Let’s talk… Amy Towers