No matter what you do for a living, it’s a good bet you benefit from having influence on the people around you.
Customers, clients, colleagues, the guy who delivers office supplies every other Tuesday…they can all make our work and our lives go more smoothly. Or, of course, they can throw a wrench into the whole thing, without even meaning to.
This is where it’s useful to have some subtle influence. And I don’t mean telling people what to do, or making rules, or scolding people for being who they are. I’m talking about shifting their emotional state by using your own state with intention.
States are contagious
You know how you’ll see someone yawn and immediately yawn yourself? The same thing goes on at a less obvious level with facial expressions, even quick, subtle ones. Postures, gestures and tones of voice can have similar impact.
We pick up these non-verbal cues about each other’s emotional state. We automatically imitate the frown or the smile or the cocked eyebrow. We lower our voice or add a note of sarcasm to match theirs. And our brain interprets these things as an expression of our own feelings.
That’s how easily and quickly we can “catch” someone else’s emotional state.
I had a big opportunity to study emotional contagion last week after my knee surgery. It made the whole rehab experience fascinating. Some of what I learned might be useful for all of us when it comes to our professional lives.
Lessons from orthopedic rehab
Nobody’s having fun in rehab. It’s hard work coming back from a knee surgery or a hip replacement, and a lot of the work hurts like hell. I was at a lovely facility with an impressive staff. But it’s not like being at home.
You pretty much have to follow the routine and the schedule. You don’t have a lot of options – in the beginning, you can’t even get up and get dressed by yourself. (It was a big deal when they declared me SIR—Safe in Room means you can get out of bed and go to the bathroom without pressing a button to summon help.)
No independence, limited choices, physical pain…you might guess, people can get a little crabby.
I believe attitude influences, well, almost everything. But certainly, it has an impact on healing. So, I set an intention from the get-go not to get crabby, to appreciate the help I was getting, and to focus on doing the work and getting stronger. Oh, and on finding the humor in the whole situation—that helps with healing too.
If we’re Facebook friends, you know I was posting wry observations with the hash tag #RockinMyRehab. (And if we’re not Facebook friends, let’s change that.)
The upshot was: I progressed surprisingly quickly. The physical therapists commented on it, so did the nurses. My fellow-patients noticed I was getting better faster than would have been expected for a more-than-middle-aged woman with two shiny new knees.
Here’s where things got interesting. Thursday morning, I headed off for PT bubbling with energy, feeling better than I had thus far, proud of the progress I’d made.
I biked, I stretched, I practiced going up and down stairs with a cane. I talked with my cohorts and teased my therapist. I beamed and glowed. And…I am not kidding you…the energy in the room changed.
You could feel it, the shift in people’s moods. Even the sour-faced woman who’d resisted every smile and greeting all week wanted to chat that morning.
She was such a study, by the way. She had everything going for her: expert therapists, family visits. Her son even brought her dog to keep her company during PT—and that woman didn’t crack a smile. Until we talked on Thursday.
Then she lit up. And I know this sounds like self-ing, but if you’d been there, you would have seen the same thing. I flipped that switch. My energy was so magnetic and so positive it changed her energy.
Why don’t I do that more often?
Think of the power we have…and don’t use
That day in rehab, I was very much in the moment. Intensely focused on my own physical experience and the cues from people around me. Setting aside any thoughts or feelings that would have distracted me from my goal: do the work and get better. Fully grounded in my body, present in the moment.
That’s what generates the magnetic energy that draws people in, connects them to you, and gives you a measure of influence.
On an ordinary day at work, when we’re distracted by demands from every direction, preoccupied with our to-do list, and day-dreaming about our next day off, we can’t possibly exude that kind of intense energy.
We miss the chance to influence the people around us. Worse yet, we’re likely to let them influence us with their complaints and criticisms and crankiness. YIKES!
You’ve probably experienced that downward spiral that can infect a whole team. What if we decide to put a stop to it?
I’m setting an intention to move into the new year focused on maintaining my own state and maybe even spreading it around. Are you with me?
Post a comment below to share your intention … or your story about a contagious state.