Have you noticed that you can be in a good mood and then walk into a meeting and suddenly you’re feeling negative or disheartened, and you don’t even know why? Researchers have proven that three people can sit in close proximity, and within a minute or two the most emotionally active will have transmitted their mood to the other two, even without saying or doing anything. Unfortunately, the most emotionally active person in a meeting is often the one who is carrying anxiety or feeling melancholy, and that then becomes the prevalent emotion for the entire team. Given what we now know about how emotions can hijack a person’s ability to make good decisions and come up with good ideas, we can’t afford to let a team’s emotions run amok. But how do you take control of a team’s emotions?
First, make sure you don’t get sucked into the negative emotions yourself. It’s critical that you intentionally remain an observer rather than unintentionally have your own emotions hijacked. Protect your own mood by self-managing your emotions to stay positive and enthused. If this seems foreign, check out this helpful resource from an organization called HeartMath.
Next, detect the group’s emotions to determine if there’s something you can address through words or action. Perhaps they’re feeling underappreciated and need some kudos, or they may feel a fear of failure and need some encouragement. So figure out what’s going on by “feeling into” the team and sensing how your body feels. The ability to do this is backed by a large number of experiments using functional MRI that have shown certain brain regions are active when people experience an emotion and the same regions are active when they observe other people experience the same emotion.
When you “feel into” another person, you’re using your lower level reptile brain, which is seldom used in business. It perceives thru subtle, instinctive vibes. To feel into another person, project your awareness to the other person, envision moving down in your brain toward your instinctive senses, and notice the way your body feels.
It’s important that you are able to recognize how various emotions feel in your own body. You may need to work on expanding your sensitivity to emotion by paying attention to the sensations in your body when you experience particular emotional states. For example, when I feel frustrated or overwhelmed, my arms throb and feel tired and heavy, as if I’m carrying a big load. When I’m afraid of failure, my feet feel leaden and I get a burning in the pit of my stomach. When you feel into another person, you’ll perceive their emotions the way your body feels that emotion, even though the emotion may feel different to them in their body. So feel into the group and see what you can detect, and see if you can address it through words or actions.
Of course there are many times when there’s no business solution for the emotions that are being felt. The emotions could be arising from the sadness a team-mate feels in their personal life or from anxiety arising from the hectic world we live in. What then? If that’s the case, it’s time to use a technique to re-shape the team’s emotions.
Science has proven that a person (the sender) can intentionally facilitate positive emotions in other people (the recipients). The sender does this by directing compassion-infused attention towards the recipients. It’s important to note that the process is most effective when the sender focuses foremost on achieving an optimal emotional state themselves rather than focusing too much on changing the recipients. It seems that if the sender focuses too much on imposing their emotional state on the recipients, this creates a sort of performance anxiety and negatively influences their own mood. I find that the best results are achieved when I focus on reaching my own optimal emotional state while breathing in, and then direct it to the recipients while breathing out. You can use this technique to literally re-shape the emotions of your team-mates, and they don’t need to have any idea that you’re doing it.
As we learn more from neuroscience about the incredible power of group emotions, we see reasons to adopt techniques beyond the ordinary. For more on shaping team emotions to increase creativity and performance, including research references, get notified of the upcoming book Primal Teams: Harnessing the Incredible Power of Group Energy or sign up for a monthly summary of articles.Share