Are emotions contagious in the workplace?

Have you ever had the experience of working at a place and just feeling bad every day?  Maybe your stomach was always in knots.  Maybe you just couldn’t sleep at night.  Or maybe your body physically hurt.  You just hurt, every day.  Simply put, you didn’t feel good.  Maybe you wondered if you were going crazy.  Could your office be responsible for your bad back or your foul mood?

You weren’t crazy then and you aren’t crazy now.  For the last 20 years, there has been a growing body of research on this very question: “Are emotions contagious in the workplace?”  The bottom line is “yes” they are.  But the answer is more complicated than a simple “yes.”  Some workplaces are more contagious than others.  Some people are more susceptible to emotional contagion than others.  And, of course, some individuals can affect our mood more than others (hint: who signs your check?).  The good news is that there are things you can do to overcome and combat contagious emotions in your workplace – three things to be precise.

Curious?  I hope so.  I did a TEDx talk on this very phenomenon complete with a prescription at the end.  Check it out and if you like it, pass it along.

At the end of the day, work should not have to suck.  Together, we can make workplaces what they are supposed to be: a source of meaning, purpose, fulfillment and free from dysfunction!



3 ways to strengthen your EQ

get-more-EQConversational déjà vu.  This has been my life over the last few months. I seem to keep having the same conversation over and over again.  It goes something like this:

Person: “You know, X is really great at what he or she does (dramatic pause)… but, there is something about the way they go about things that is not good. It is causing problems and upsetting people.”

Me: “Really? In what way (my therapist coming out)?”

Person: “I don’t know. It’s like they are going too fast, or don’t consider other’s thoughts or opinions. I don’t think it is an issue of them not caring. It’s like they don’t see the social impact they are having.”

Me: “It sounds like this could be an EQ issue and not a competency issue.”

Person: “Exactly! You’ve hit it on the head. It is definitely an EQ thing. (dramatic pause #2)… So, how can we fix that?”

How does someone raise his or her EQ?

I’ve been giving this question a lot of thought. We all know the benefits of high EQ in our careers and have seen the research that EQ is a better predictor of long-term career success than IQ. But heightened EQ can also minimize many toes from getting stepped on in life. Simply put, heightened EQ makes us better – better coworkers, better bosses, better associates, better partners, better spouses, better parents, better humans. Over the last few months, I’ve been looking for simple things each of us can do to raise our respective EQ. Consider the following:

1. Everyone had a 7th birthday.

Next time you are frustrated or angry with someone, look past the person you are currently “seeing” and try to imagine the other person as 7 years old. Picture the excitement on his or her face as they look at their birthday cake full of icing and bright burning candles. Imagine their happiness as they glance past the cake and see a mound of presents waiting to be opened. They are surrounded by all of their family and friends. They are happy, joyful and innocent.

Now imagine a different 7th birthday story. It is their 7th birthday but they are sitting at a table in a darkened room. They are alone. There are no friends. There is no cake. No presents to unwrap. The tears are streaming down their face. They sit there crying in silence – feeling unloved and forgotten. They are small, vulnerable, hurting and innocent.

Everyone had a 7th birthday. Imagine theirs to change how you view them today. Everyone has experienced intense joy as well as deep sorrow. It is hard to categorize and label others when we attempt to extend compassion and understanding towards them.

2. Look both ways.

I’ve made the argument that EQ is about peripheral vision (thanks to my dog, Ellie). Want to see how low EQ actually is in the world? Drive through a grocery store or shopping center parking lot sometime. You’ll see person after person march across the parking lot ignoring the moving cars that they are stepping in front of. Cars, people. Real moving automobiles. Maybe these pedestrians are saying to themselves, “I’m walking here and have the right of way so everyone better get out of my way.” Or perhaps they are simply oblivious to the other cars (and people) that are intersecting their world at that moment. Regardless, both are excellent examples of low EQ. This illustrates an important point about EQ. EQ is not about what is “technically correct.” I hear this inaccurate argument too often. Technically, pedestrians have the right of way and don’t need to acknowledge or pause for any vehicle or corresponding driver. However, without EQ as a complement, “technically correct” can run the risk of being perceived by others as disrespectful, ignorant, self-righteous and arrogant. Not that I’ve ever felt that way about a pedestrian in a parking lot… today at least.

Next time you are walking in a parking lot, stop. Look both ways and make eye contact with the drivers. Acknowledge him or her and mouth the words “thank you” when they motion for you to go. EQ allows us to build basic connections with others and keep us from getting run-over in life (figuratively and literally).

3. Practice the 24hour rule.

You know the one. You’ve just crafted the perfect response to something (an e-mail, blog post, comment, etc…) that stirred up your emotional pot. I had one of these moments a few weeks ago. I was about to hit “send” on my masterpiece and then thought to myself, “I should ask my wife about this.” Feeling pretty proud of myself, I expected her to say, “Oh, you nailed him. What a perfect answer. This is just one more example of why I married you.” To my surprise, that is not how the exchange went. My very wise wife said to me, “you know, maybe you should give it a day or so before you send that. You might think differently.” She was right. I did think differently and I never sent it. Just one more example of why I married her.

Strengthening and stretching your EQ is also about self-restraint. It is about listening to your emotions but not being driven by them. Next time you have something emotional that is prodding you, give yourself 24 hours to reflect on your next move.

There you have it. Three ways every one of us can begin to strengthen our EQ and make efforts to move through life with more emotional and relational intention and grace. It definitely beats getting run over.


What my dog taught me about EQ

dysfunction-eq-425Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is an interesting concept.  For those of you unfamiliar with the idea, it goes something like this…  We all have some level of baseline intelligence (IQ).  And IQ is a wonderful thing.  It is great for standardized tests and doing quantum physics in our head (if you like that sort of thing).  But at some point along the way, it became clear to many researchers and others alike that something was missing in the IQ story.  If IQ was so great, why didn’t folks with high IQs always and consistently ascend to the tops of societal ladders?  In fact, too many high IQ folks seemed unable to link their ideas to other’s needs or build the essential relationships necessary to mobilize a collective group.  They were intelligent but appeared isolated and awkward at times.  What was missing?  The notion of EQ was born.

EQ Defined

With countless definitions, emotional intelligence (EQ) is essentially one’s ability to effectively manage through the complexities of social interactions in order to not only survive but also to be productive.   Individuals with high EQ can read social cues well, have a degree of self awareness and have the ability to self-regulate so that they can achieve the optimal social outcome.  In addition, research has shown that EQ is a better predictor of long-term career success than IQ.  As one of my business school faculty colleagues likes to point out:

“If you continue to ascend in your career, at some point, you and all of your peers will have about the same levels of intelligence (IQ) – higher than average.  EQ will be the differentiator as to who continues to ascend and who doesn’t.”

So, to sum up, our brilliant physicist with bad body odor and is a poor tipper in restaurants could use a little more EQ if he or she wants to really change the world.  Got it.

emotionsBut I always felt like something was missing in the standard definitions of EQ.  Countless coaching clients of mine have had not only high IQ’s, but one could argue, they met the criteria of high EQ based on traditional definitions.  Put in a customer-facing situation, they were charming, asked the right questions and ultimately, met their customer’s needs strengthen both the relationship as well as getting results.  EQ alive and well.  But there was a problem.  When these same individuals were away from their customers and inside the four walls of their organizations, they weren’t so pleasant.  They might throw a temper tantrum during a meeting, roll their eyes at their boss or walk past the receptionist without even acknowledging his or her presence.  What was going on?


My Dog Ellie

Enter my dog, Ellie into our EQ story.  After years of pressuring their dad to get a dog, my kids finally won and we rescued this little brown puppy from the local Humane Society.  Nearly three years later, Ellie is an 80lb family favorite.  Out of curiosity, we did a mail away DNA test on Ellie.  The report came back that Ellie is pure boxer on one side of her family tree and on the other side is, well, a dog party.  An Australian cattle dog, a Rottweiler, a Chow Chow and an unknown party crasher were apparently invited to this DNA mixer.  Part guard dog and part herder, Ellie is wired to perform a particular job: know where her family is and keep the pack safely together at all times.

To add to the story, we recently moved into a new house.  The house and the yard is bigger.  This has made Ellie’s job harder.  Every day since the move she will patrol the house, looking for each of us.  One by one, she comes over to us, leans on us and nudges us with her nose to check that we are o.k.  Once we tell her we are good, she moves onto the next pack member.  And if we make eye contact during the exchange, she’ll lock eyes and wait for us to tell her what we want her to do.  Unlike other dogs I’ve had in the past, Ellie is not about her needs first.  Rather, she is about making sure we are o.k. and we don’t need her to do something for us.  When she is sure we are good, then she’ll play, but not a moment before.

The Missing EQ Ingredient

Why do I tell you this?  Because I believe Ellie possesses the missing ingredient to how we think about EQ.  Humor me for a moment.  Imagine a dot on a piece of paper and nothing else, just one lonely dot in the center of a blank piece of paper.  That dot represents a person with low EQ.  All that exists in that person’s mind is his or herself.  The universe revolves around him or her.  They wake up every day thinking about what they can do to make themselves happy.  They are the universe.   Now, draw a circle around the dot.  That represents someone with moderate EQ.  They see and care about the people in their immediate sphere of influence.  This could be just a handful of people, but there are people inside that circle nonetheless.  Maybe their list simply consists of their significant other, their best friend from college and their children and no one else (sorry mom and dad) or perhaps it is more extensive.  Regardless, there is a group of people that are “in” and everyone else is not.  Everyone else is of little consequence.  Now draw another circle around the first circle.  Make it big and wide.   That revised diagram represents a person with high EQ.  They not only consider their immediate sphere of influence (the people closest to him or her in the first circle), but they also consider all the people that they may have an impact on during the course of a given day, week month or even a year.  From the perspective of someone with high EQ, everyone inside both of their circles is a “customer.”  How do we know these people?  These people say hello
to the receptionist.  They hold doors open for the person coming behind them with heavy boxes.  They think to let others know where they are going to be when they aren’t in the office (or at home).  They consider other’s emotions, are self-aware and self-regulate in an exponential and systemic way.  We often call these people “considerate, thoughtful, team players, supportive, easy to work with, humble, etc…” The fact is, they possess and utilize high levels of EQ with everyone around them.  They see and hear the people around them.  Individuals with high EQ have a high degree of emotional peripheral vision.
My dog Ellie has emotional peripheral vision.  But, admittedly, her EQ circle is small.  It consists of her immediate pack, the five members of my family.  That’s about all she can handle.

We, however, are capable of much much more.

What about you?  How big are your circles?


Ellie hard at work