We’ve all heard, in one variation or another, of the ongoing battle between positive and negative that is fought within each person. One of the best versions is credited to the Cherokee and uses wolves to represent the opposing sides. I like this one because it recognizes that there may seem to be no difference in appearance (in other words, you can’t always tell a book by the cover) and goes on to say that the wolf that wins the battle will be the wolf that is fed.
Skipping the biggies (kill, lie, cheat, steal), just what impact does the battle have within the workplace? And what, as a manager, is your responsibility?
A lot, as it turns out—and it even has a name. It’s called “emotional contagion” and much of the recent research that’s been done has focused on emotionally negative or positive bosses. The results won’t surprise those of us who’ve been exposed to “glass half empty” people—the experts have proved that negative emotions, especially in leaders, can bring a group down faster than running air conditioning during flu season.
What can you do? Start by staying aware of your own mood. It’s hard to be upbeat when you walk out of a meeting with an enraged client, or a design review for a project about to go over budget, but if you don’t, you’ll bring down the rest of your team and that’ll blow off the entire day (or week or even longer).
Overcome your mood using a simple approach that I first learned from a book by Napoleon Hill more years ago than matters. He said, “Think, act, walk and talk like the person you want to become and you’ll become that person.” He also said, “Act enthusiastic and you’ll become enthusiastic” Put them together and you have an unbeatable, simple, solution for keeping your own morale and, as a result, the morale of your team, positive and productive.
And what about your people? You need to deal with any kind of negativity, including a “blue” mood, immediately. Talk to the person privately; you can’t force someone to discuss a problem, but you can offer your help. You also need to make it clear that whatever is going on you can’t allow it to bring down the team—that while at work he needs to present a positive front. If it’s a personal life problem, especially a big one (illness, loss of life, etc.) offer your support and find out how much of the situation you’re allowed to share with the team. Remember, with personal information, sharing is the employee’s call, not yours.
Sometimes, when really bad stuff happens, it’s hard to act, let alone, be positive, but it’s easier on the team if they understand, even generally, the situation and can be supportive. Also, remember that you aren’t, and shouldn’t be, either shrink or confidante, but you can help them find and connect with resources that offer support and solutions.
Sure, these approaches may seem simplistic, but oft times simple is best. After all, you’re not trying to solve the cause, but to mitigate the effect.