The Powerful Implications of Positive, Contagious Emotions

The Optimistic Workplace
This is a guest post by my friend, author and speaker, Shawn Murphy. Shawn is the CEO & Founder of the leadership blog, Switch & Shift. I’m excited that his book, The Optimistic Workplace is now available.

Be Positive

As a leader, you have the greatest influence on those whom you lead. A good day for you can lift the spirits of your team. Research shows that your positive emotions are contagious. Certainly the opposite is true. Yet, there is greater significance when you spread positive, contagious emotions. That is the focus of this article.


“Your presence has a powerful influence on your team.” -Shawn Murphy


Distinguished psychology professor Barbara Fredrickson has devoted much of her research to positive, contagious emotions. She defines them as emotions such as joy, love, or inspiration. When these or other positive emotions are present, they expand our thinking and actions to complementary effects. Positive emotions drive related behaviors that inspire others to mimic them when observed. For example, if you are feeling inspired in a brainstorming meeting and you show it, it will likely rub-off on others who will model similar behaviors. Thus the emotion becomes contagious.


“Positive anything is better than negative nothing.” –Elbert Hubbard


Benefits of Positive, Contagious Emotions

Positive, contagious emotions benefit your team and help drive towards desired organizational outcomes. These emotions help shape the work climate to be optimistic. Individuals thrive because of these two influences on performance.

Higher Team Performance

Simply put, positive emotions make you feel good. And when you feel good you perform at higher levels. It’s easier for you to reach peak performance. When you regularly experience positive emotions, you continually grow toward optimal functioning. A team influenced by positive, contagious emotions performs at higher levels.

Positive SeOptimistic Workplacelf-Identity

When you feel good about yourself and your contributions, you are more likely to experience higher levels of creativity and resiliency. What Fredrickson has learned from her research is that positive emotions have an encouraging influence on a person’s identity and well-being.

Stronger Relationships

Relationships are stronger and healthier where positive, contagious emotions are prevalent. Employees are seen as key partners in the success of the team and ultimately in the organization. Employees want to know that they are valued and not just some number built into the company’s balance sheet.


“A team influenced by positive, contagious emotions performs at higher levels.” -Shawn Murphy


Implications of Positive, Contagious Emotions

As a leader, you personally benefit by demonstrating actions that evoke positive emotions. The implications listed below have significant influence on your own satisfaction as a leader. The implications also help shape the climate so that workplace optimism can emerge.

Inspire People to Overcome Challenges

Because of the growth factor associated with positive emotions, you help people learn to overcome challenges independently. Their reliance on you to solve problems is reduced, freeing you up to deepen your leadership and expand employee autonomy. The former is a powerful intrinsic motivator.

Set a positive leadership presence

As I stated at the opening of this article, your presence has a powerful influence on your team. By increasing your awareness of and ability to model spreading positive emotions, you magnify or powerfully shift how your team experiences your leadership. This is vital for improving employee engagement and increasing the likelihood of unplanned giving. (Unplanned giving is when employees are motivated to help others without wanting anything in return.)

Shawn Murphy, Switch & ShiftIncrease fulfillment from your work

Your work as a leader is other-focused: Your actions are geared to help people become better versions of themselves. This belief is the genesis for servant leaders’ actions. By tapping into the benefits of positive, contagious emotions, you increase the joy, happiness, and satisfaction in your own work. Such emotions propel you to show up and be the best you can be. Don’t confuse this with perfection, however. The wisdom of learning to leverage emotions shows you just how fallible you are—how fallible we all are.

We spend 1/3 of our life working. Work needs to be an affirming part of your employees’ lives. While you can’t make employees enjoy their work, you create the context for that reality to occur. Understanding the influence of positive, contagious emotions on the work environment is a big step forward.


Leadership Tip: You benefit from actions that evoke positive emotions.


The Optimistic Workplace: Creating an Environment That Energizes Everyone


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