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LEADERSHIP


MANAGING EMOTIONS IN THE WORKPLACE: DO POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE ATTITUDES DRIVE PERFORMANCE?


You know the type: coworkers who never have anything positive to say, whether at the weekly staff meeting or in the cafeteria line. They can suck the energy from a brainstorming session with a few choice comments. Their bad mood frequently puts others in one, too. Their negativity can contaminate even good news. “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.” Barsade is the co-author of a


new paper titled, “Why Does Affect Matter in Organizations?” (“Affect” is another word for “emotion” in organizational behavior studies.) The answer: Employees’ moods, emotions, and overall dispositions have an impact on job performance, decision making, creativity, turnover, teamwork, negotiations and leadership.


“The state of the literature shows that affect matters because people are not isolated ’emotional islands.’


Rather, they bring all of themselves to work, including their traits, moods and emotions, and their affective experiences and expressions influence others,” according to the paper, co-authored by Donald Gibson of Fairfield University’s Dolan School of Business. An “affective revolution” has


occurred over the last 30 years as academics and managers alike have come to realize that employees’ emotions are integral to what happens in an organization, says Barsade, who has been doing research in the area of emotions and work dynamics for 15 years. “Everybody brings their emotions to work. You bring your brain to work. You bring your emotions to work. Feelings drive performance. They drive behavior and other feelings. Think of people as emotion conductors.” In the paper, Barsade and Gibson consider three different 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 instance, 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 grand and obvious to have an impact. Subtle displays of emotion, such as a quick frown, can have an effect as well, Barsade says. She offers this example: “Say your boss is generally in very good humor, but you see him one day at a meeting and his eyes flash at you. Even if they don’t glare at you for the rest of the meeting, his eyes have enunciated some valuable information that is going to have you concerned and worried and off center for the rest of the meeting.” Barsade suggests that while some people are better than others at controlling their emotions, that


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