Contagious Behaviors

I listened to a Global Director of Human Resources open a training session where she started talking about research she had done on the effect of human behavior and how it’s contagious. This topic really grabbed my attention. She asked for people in the room to raise their hand if they had ever worked with someone who always seemed to be rushed and chaotic. No surprise that nearly everyone had their hand raised. She asked people how working with those individuals made them feel. Some of the responses were, “stressed”, “overwhelmed”, “anxious”. She then asked people to raise their hand if they had ever worked with someone who was visibly angry. Again, almost everyone had a hand raised. When asking how an angry colleague or boss made them feel, responses were “frustrated”, “nervous”, “irritated”.

What she was trying to prove was that when people express their emotions, those emotions are contagious. When people are working positively and show they are happy, that makes people around them feel the same way. When people are innovative, others around them start to share their suggestions and ideas. Positivity generates more positivity. On the flip side, negativity demotivates people and can ruin your business. 

We tend to cover our emotions when dealing with clients, because we don’t ever want them to see what’s really happening on the surface. We never want our clients to know the millions of things going through our heads. They don’t need to know about a crappy call we might have just had with someone else. We know that good client service means we have to look and act like a swan – where we look real calm above water but are kicking like crazy underneath. For some reason, we don’t do the same with our colleagues/team members. Of course, they are in the trenches with us, but why do we need to bring them down too?

I used to have a boss that would run around looking like a headless chicken. If she had to deal with an angry guest or had a stressful meeting, it was immediately evident to everyone around. Someone once told me that when my boss was spiraling, I would start to do the same and I didn’t even realize it. It was then that I learned to be really sensitive and try to be aware of my behaviors. There was no reason for me to put those emotions on anyone else. If I wanted a team that was going to be positive, engaged and hardworking, I needed to lead by example and internalize those negative feelings. That doesn’t come easy. It requires being self-aware and having the ability to walk the walk and talk the talk, regardless of how you feel at that moment.

Hearing this senior leader talk about contagious behaviors made me take a step back and self-reflect. I’ve since made another commitment to focus on my behavior and ensure others around me don’t feel my stress, pressure or frustration. Instead, I will work to spread my positivity, commitment and support. Sometimes we just need to get out of the day to day and clear our heads by taking a step back and doing some self-reflection.

Do you find yourself effecting others with your behavior/emotions, good or bad? Do you find your behavior changing as you are affected by someone else’s? Send me a note ( if you have tips or tricks on how to control your emotions so it doesn’t impact others.