Lately, we’ve all gotten better at avoiding contagion. Most of us stay away when someone sneezes or coughs. But as easy as it is to catch the common cold, studies suggest it’s just as easy to catch someone else’s mood, a process known as emotional contagion.
How did this happen? While emotional contagion is difficult to detect, the actual process is simple. Humans are social creatures, and mimicry is part of the social bond. When someone smiles at us, we usually smile back. The same goes for frowning: if someone approaches you looking grumpy, you may unconsciously look back at them. At this point, you may experience a bit of sadness as your mind follows your body.
When people work together, there is a constant exchange of moods and it is possible to catch a negative attitude like a virus. Within a team, the effects of a single negative person can be very damaging to the project and the well-being of each individual. It is vital that leaders understand how to manage mood contagion.
As a leader, your team will be very attuned to your emotions, which means that your mood has the power to influence their attitudes, spirits and behaviors. As the saying goes, “leaders bring the weather.”
Positivity is likely to come easily when you’ve had a good start to the day, but what about the times when you’ve slept poorly and everyone in your household is running late? Or maybe, like so many, you’re simply feeling drained? Fortunately, there are several proven ways to bring good cheer to your team according to Dina D. Smith in FastCompany:
Because you largely control the team’s climate, it’s crucial that you stay aware of your mood and change it if necessary. If you like the weather analogy, asking yourself, “What is my current weather state (Sunny? Cloudy? Unsettled?) Is it okay?” can help you pay attention to your mood.
Especially if you’re feeling frazzled or close to it, you may not realize the extent to which you’re conveying your exhaustion and lack of positivity to your team. This simple question can help you increase your self-awareness and quickly tune into your internal state.
If your current mood is not helpful to your team, work to change it. One proven method to change how you feel is to reframe. Like adjusting your view through a camera lens, reframing helps you change your mindset by looking at a situation, person or relationship from a different, more positive angle.
For example, let’s say you just found out you weren’t chosen for a promotion you wanted; now you’re in a bad mood as you’re heading to a team meeting. Instead of reflecting on being passed over, consider what positive things might result from not being promoted. Will you avoid additional unwanted stress? Or possibly find a role that is even better aligned with your long-term career aspirations?
By reframing the situation and looking for potential advantages, you can reduce your stress and improve your mood.
Along with your mood, also pay attention to your body language. For example, while you may cross your arms because you’re cold, it can convey defensiveness or anxiety (and be contagious). On the other hand, an upright, relaxed posture, smile and eye contact can express warmth and confidence and generate the same feelings in others.
The relationship between our minds and bodies is a two-way street: what we think influences how we feel and how our bodies react, but the reverse is also true. For example, choosing to smile triggers a chemical reaction in your brain that can make you feel happier and even build your immunity.

It is essential to be conscious and intentional about the climate you are creating. It can be all too easy to focus on the negative at work, where anger is expressed more often than joy.
Encourage the sharing of victories, experiences and positive emotions. And make it clear that you will not tolerate negativity and destructive behaviors. Mind you, a culture of positive emotion is not about constant (and unsustainable) positivity. It’s about redressing the balance between negative and positive emotions at work and fostering an environment where negativity is less likely to take root.
Don’t forget to protect yourself from negativity. Consider what’s going on around you: do any of your co-workers seem chronically stressed? Does your mood improve when you’re away from someone?
If you suspect negative emotional contagion is affecting you, take some time for self-care. This could include exercise, mindfulness practices, and having positive, high-quality connections with others, all of which are proven mood boosters. And if your feelings persist, you may want to seek the support of a therapist.
As social creatures, we will always be susceptible to picking up on the moods of those around us. By knowing this, and practicing some helpful techniques, you can leverage your emotional awareness in the workplace, tipping the scales in favor of positivity for you and your team.