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.
I love it, Catherine! I just shows the impact an attitude can have on others as well as ourselves…now if we can just all remember that! As you know, I had my one knee done as an outpatient the day before you did and I had warned my family that I was apt to be a bit crabby when I was in pain. But they have been so attentive and helpful at home, I beam with gratitude for their care of me. I have been progressing quickly too and it makes my family and therapy team proud to see me progressing. I think it was Charles Stanley who wrote a famous quote on attitude: it is more important than our situation, where we come from, what our background is and especially how much money we have: choosing a positive attitude every day is like wearing a cloak: we put it on and the positive energy we create blesses others and ourselves.Thanks so much for reminding us go that!
Teri you hit on the real issue — remembering the impact our attitude has. I had such crystal clear examples during rehab, but of course I was focusing on myself and my recovery, not doing the hundreds of other things that make up running a business. Or a household. My question is how to take that state-maintenance into those other parts of my life. What if I could have the same equanimity when I call Comcast in little while to find out how long our cable will be out? Wouldn’t THAT be great?
Hey, congratulations on your rehab progress. We’ll go for a walk on our new knees one of these days.
My first impulse was to wish you well soon… but you aren’t waiting for that. That about you is why I and so many of your fans love you.
Bless your heart, Jim. I’ve had so many people wishing me well through this adventure.Very fortunate.
Your positivity and energy comes through in your writing, too! So happy to hear you’re on the mend–largely because of YOU. Gratitude works wonders. Keep spreading your light and keep these stories coming, Catherine. I love them.
Gratitude does have some power, Nora. It was good to see such clear examples of that in action.
Here’s a challenge—as a writer you might have some insight about this. A lot of humor is based on negativity. Everything went right today isn’t exactly a knee-slapper. Something went awry and here’s how and then what happened … that’s where the humor can be found.
A lot of my speaking and writing have a humorous or ironic aspect. Being funny is even part of my self-image, and one of the things people most often say about me.
So my question is, how to be funny and keep those rainbows and unicorns around? I’d love to hear your insights about that balance, Nora—as a writer, you must confront the same thing.
You could not be more correct! I was thinking the same thoughts myself today – how powerful our energy can be. We have had a challenging week and I really noticed my mood spinning downward. More importantly, it was influencing my whole team. I pledge to concentrate on spreading positive energy in 2019!
Oh, Gale, especially when you’re the leader, your mood is SO important. It does influence the whole team, for better or for worse. I’m with you on planning to exude more positive energy more often!