You can’t touch, smell, taste or see it but you can feel it – the moment you walk into any room, at work or home. A bad atmosphere; the palpable effects of negative and intense emotions; someone sitting in a cloud of silent fury and anger, a group of people smilingly on the defensive, or a couple with rigid rictus smiles together but not together. It can unnerve, unsettle and affect your decisions as well as your mood.  
 
You can catch it over the phone, it comes from all directions. For example, you hear from a client who is going through a trying time and offloads onto you. He ends the call feeling lighter and happier but you are left with a drained feeling as you have picked up and are carrying an unwelcome burden. 
 
This is especially trying if you work with someone who is always negative, complaining or just seems to be in a permanent bad mood. This can be exacerbated if your work revolves around people going through challenging times. I find that solicitors and barristers in the family law area can often be affected with difficult and harrowing cases; not so easy then to protect your attitude and emotions. 
This is a recognised phenomenon but interestingly we aren’t really aware of it happening at the time. We routinely “catch” others;’ moods and attitudes when we are together in groups. This can in turn influence how people react and make decisions. Emotional contagion works on both positive and negative emotions. A bad-tempered, miserable team member will usually trigger others and so it spreads but the opposite is true of someone who is feeling happy and uplifted. It works both ways. 
 
There are two things happening with us: 
As we are keenly aware of body language and visual queues, we read people’s body language. This was learned eons ago before we had our complex and expansive language. 
We use Mirror Neurons. These are neurons in the brain. They start to fire up and reflect the same activity as those neurons in others’ brains to help in two ways. We are more easily able to understand the intentions and emotions of others, more empathetic. Also they enable us to copy the actions of others. 
 
It is believed that mirror neurons developed as a fast-track system for information and understanding to be learned in seconds, bypassing the original Darwinian evolutionary passage of development of advancement. 
 
Today we pick up these feelings as a subconscious feeling, barely registering it in our conscious mind but we use them nevertheless to prepare us and inform us of how to best approach the situation. 
 
Here are some simple practical tips to protect yourself and a video at the end to help you see in real-time how laughter can spread like a plague too. 
 
Whether a manager, boss or employee, here are some invaluable tips to keep more positive and energised group dynamics:- 
Be aware of your own mood. Would you want to work with you today? Deliberately do something or bring to mind something that will lift your attitude and spirits before you reach the office 
Look individuals in the eye – looking away increases feelings of uneasiness with them and lowers the energy and atmosphere 
Make sure you are as relaxed as you can be 
Put a smile on your face before you enter the building 
Do a quick mental think-around your team and focus briefly on one good thing for each person- it could be about appearance, time keeping, creativity, loyalty – just one thing about each person that you can appreciate. 
If all else fails, have a look at this video and share it with everyone else. 
 
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