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Creating a peaceful office environment

It goes without saying that office conflict, poor attitudes, and negative staffers undermine peace and tranquility. But any bad behavior you bring to the workplace also impacts harmony.

Who, you? Yes, it’s all about the people and you’re one of them.

To the mirror

Your negativity or bad mood greatly affects others.

“We engage in emotional contagion,” says Sigal Barsade, a Wharton management professor who studies the influence of emotions on the workplace. “Emotions travel from person to person like a virus.”

Perhaps not surprising, Barsade’s research finds employees’ moods, emotions, and overall dispositions have an impact on job performance, decision making, creativity, turnover, and teamwork.

And arguably, a manager’s feelings and how they are projected have a greater impact on the office because she or he is a leader.

In the paper “Why Does Affect Matter in Organizations” (“affect” is another word for “emotion” in organization behavior studies), Barsade and coauthor Donald Gibson of Fairfield University’s Dolan School of Business look at three types of feelings:

  • Discrete, short-lived emotions, such as joy, anger, fear, and disgust.
  • Moods, which are longer-lasting feelings and not necessarily tied to a particular cause. A person is in a cheerful mood, for example, or feeling down.
  • Dispositional, or personality, traits, which define a person’s overall approach to life. “She’s always so cheerful,” or “He’s always looking at the negative.”

All three types of feelings can be contagious, and emotions don’t have to be obvious to have an impact. Subtle displays of emotion, such as a quick frown, can have an effect as well, Barsade says.

Some people are better than others at controlling their emotions, but that doesn’t mean their coworkers—or staff—aren’t aware of their moods. “You may not think you are showing emotion, but there’s a good chance you are in your facial expression or body language. Emotions we don’t even realize we are feeling can influence our thoughts and behaviors,” Barsade says.

Interacting with others

Barsade and Gibson focus on longer-term displays of feelings, and people for whom negative feelings become part of their everyday behavior.

They don’t examine temporary life challenges, such as personal or family illness, that may affect emotions and how you interact with others in the short term.

However, in these situations, it’s equally important to recognize your feelings, and, under such circumstances, consider sharing the reason for your behavior with your staff.

Letting staff know that your mood shift is not work-related, and not about them, can help alleviate their fears and concerns. It will also let them know that the situation is temporary.

But what happens when it is about “them”—”them” being people with whom you work?

How do you avoid being affected by people motivational speaker Rene Godefroy refers to as “jerks”?

The jerk could be anyone at the practice, from a physician to a staff member. Worse, you could work with multiple jerks.

How do you avoid catching their contagion and passing it on?

Maintaining your peace of mind

Godefroy recommends that you first get yourself in the right mindset, using self-talk, and then use self-talk throughout the day to stay positive.

Then, he recommends that you “stop rehearsing the jerks.” This means not spending time thinking about what these people say or do. In other words, free your mind and free your time. Godefroy says once you do, you’ll make space for the amazing people you come across on your path.

He also advocates a simple gesture, but one that has been proven to work: smile. The best tool you have at your disposal is a smile, he says.

Godefroy doesn’t recommend that you go around grinning from ear to ear. “People might think that you’re kind of weird,” he says.

Nevertheless, smiling, as opposed to frowning, will help you maintain a positive outlook, and ultimately make your workplace more peaceful.

How does this work? It turns out negative emotions aren’t the only ones that are contagious.

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