“Well, I wasn’t mad before you stormed in here.”
It’s called emotional contagion, and researchers study it in several ways. We are like chameleons – we’ll change our mood to match the “loudest” mood in the room. If you think about this, it happens all the time:
- A kid has a tantrum, and while you strive to maintain your cool, you eventually give in to anger or frustration, similar to what the child is feeling.
- Your boss is upset because sales numbers are alarming. Instead of being curious about why you respond to the mood and become defensive and guarded. Now you’re both at odds, and no one is thinking about the problem.
- Your partner is anxious and worried. Behavior patterns become erratic, and you feel control slipping away. You make it worse by mimicking the desperation because it feels like stability has flown out the door.
The answer is to increase your awareness of emotional contagion, so you don’t get caught in an unhealthy situation.
How it works
What: Notice the feelings (mood). Do this in your head, or if you are brave, you can verify their feelings by checking with the other person. Simply ask, “Are you feeling [insert observation here] right now?”
There’s a good follow-up if your observation is wrong; ask them how they feel. If the answer is yes, ask them why.
IN BOTH CASES, be quiet. Hold the silence until it’s uncomfortable. It’s important because they’ll often say more than the obvious and you’ll get more insight into what’s happening.
When: This is most effective when it appears emotions – or feelings – are taking up all the space.
Benefit: The most significant benefit is it keeps you from the contagion. You don’t have to mirror their mood. The trick is to avoid provocation – feelings seek other feelings – long enough to understand what’s happening with the other person.
This topic is fascinating because feelings can transfer through phone calls, social media, and in person. If you’re wondering about positive emotions, those are also contagious (you’ve seen laughing baby videos, right?), but studies show negative affective states have a more substantial impact on negative emotions than on positive ones. [Here’s a survey of the literature.]
Did you try this technique? How did it work? Hit me up on social media or leave a comment here. And if you like this content, subscribe on YouTube and share it with your friends. Thank you.