Our Two Minds Are Always At Work
Recall my blog – “Our Two Minds At Work.” (June 16). Our Rider mind manages our conscious thought and speaking process but our huge, silent Elephant mind does most of the work of getting us through the day. Through its mirror neuron system and the instant good-bad decision-making of its amygdala, we are constantly reacting to what’s going on around us. Just as cat videos can “go viral” and “infect” everybody online, our moods can do the same at work.
The Elephant’s instant decisions are always communicated in two directions at once: (1) to the Rider (conscious) mind, so we’ll know what to do or say and, (2) to the body’s self-regulation system and reward and threat circuits, so we’ll know how to feel. All this occurs at the non-conscious level as the Elephant reads others’ facial gestures; the sound of their voices and their body movements.
Research reveals that emotions, both positive and negative, spread like viruses among employees in a work group. One study of 70 work teams, across a variety of industries, showed that members who sat in meetings together ended up sharing moods – good and bad – within two hours. People routinely “catch” each other’s feelings and this influences not only their moods but also their judgment and business decisions as well.
In one controlled study, where groups were being asked to simulate a “salary committee” attempting to fairly distribute a limited amount of money among worthy candidates, and still maximise benefit to the company, their decision-making was affected by the most expressive person in the meeting. In some groups one person was secretly asked to display “cheerful enthusiasm.” In other groups an individual was asked to display “hostile irritability”.
In the presence of “cheerful enthusiasm” groups not only felt they were more cooperative but actually had less conflict. Moreover, they allocated the money more equitably than groups intentionally infected by hostility.
When the effective groups were asked about their success, they pointed to their own skills as negotiators or to the qualities of the candidates they represented. They had no idea that their behaviour had been directed by the emotions displayed by a confederate of the experimenter.
In peer groups, the most expressive person may be the key shaper of everyone’s feelings but in managed work groups that role falls to the leader. Our culture trains us deeply to pay attention to people who have power over us. In work groups the expressed emotions of team leaders and managers matter most.
Managers can manage their moods
Emotionally intelligent managers accept the importance of their emotional expression and can learn to recognise their moods and regulate them. First, they can regulate their bodies before a meeting. If they are in a “bad” mood, they can use the conscious calming breath (see August 30 blog) to calm their Elephant. They can also smile to themselves before entering a meeting (our smiling face provides instant positive feedback to our elephant). Second, they can avoid the body language of negativity (for instance, no crossed arms. Everyone interprets that as defensiveness). Finally, they can emphasise positive vocal tone as they speak to communicate optimism as they start the meeting
The elephant just wants to fit in
When leaders smile and use a pleasant tone of voice their employees’ Elephant minds can’t help noticing, and most importantly, copying the emotion. When they copy positive emotions they are likely to listen better in the meeting and work more effectively after it.