Psychologists are learning that positive attitudes can be contagious.
What we say and how we act makes a difference in how team culture develops and grows. Staying positive and grateful for the good things in our lives—at work and at home—isn’t always easy. Like other habits, it takes practice. But scientists are learning that modelling good behaviour at work has a surprising impact on office culture—especially during times when things aren’t going our way.
Behaviour Is Contagious
It’s hard to leave personal baggage at the door each morning when you come to work. And co-workers don’t always help. We all know one or two who complain about this or that, and because we’re human, we often come down to their level and add own gripes to the conversation. Sometimes, trading complaints are a form of small talk.
But negativity can be as contagious as any disease. Left to run its course unchecked, it breaks down lines of communication and halts a team’s forward progress.
It’s important to get small frustrations off our chests sometimes, but in the long-run, indulging in negativity too often can wind up doing more harm than good to our careers. As we compete for leadership positions, a dose of gratitude and politeness can become surprisingly powerful tools for motivating others and winning their confidence.
Negativity can be as contagious as any disease . . . it breaks down lines of communication and halts a team’s forward progress.
A new report published in the Journal Of Applied Psychology offers early evidence that impoliteness can spread like wildfire in the workplace. What’s more, negative work culture can go on to cause bigger problems, altering how we communicate and read situations.
“When you experience rudeness, it makes rudeness more noticeable,” Trevor Foulk, a student at the University of Florida’s College of Business Administration and the study’s lead author said. Eventually, “you’ll see more rudeness even if it’s not there.”
How Envy Wrecks Corporate Culture
So what’s at the root of negative work cultures, and how can it be headed off? Some of the common causes are beyond most managers’ control. For one thing, though, envy among team members is one potential cause. When some team members feel they aren’t getting as far ahead as others, the tension can throw off what was once a seamless collaboration.
Some degree of competition exists in every workplace, and when it’s put out in the open, it can even incentivize colleagues to work harder and smarter. But when the criteria for rewarding employees’ successes aren’t clear enough or isn’t perceived to be the only thing leading to some team members’ advancement, problems can set in.
In other words, competition shades into envy the more secrecy plays a role. We don’t often admit we’re envious of someone else—but when we do, it’s usually whispered to a trusted confidant. Those networks of secret, competitive knowledge can spread, and this hushed tension picks team dynamics apart.
There are two techniques that can help prevent that from happening—showing gratefulness and leading by example.
Get Used To Being Grateful
Most of us take something or other for granted. It’s virtually impossible to count all our blessings all the time. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t something we can do more often. And since it’s the perfect antidote to getting envious, practising gratefulness as a habit of mind is a great way to forfend against negative work culture.
But being grateful for life’s small pleasures—” stopping to smell the roses,” as they say—isn’t a habit you need to go out of your way to acquire. Perhaps more important still, it doesn’t mean just learning to be happy with your lot and shutting down your ambition. Instead, take some time to focus on what you’ve achieved already. Let yourself feel proud. Relishing in your successes every now and then, in the comfort of your own head, can do wonders for your self-esteem, well-being, and the way you perceive your work.
Those who can savour and sustain positive emotions for longer are generally happier—and less likely to complain.
A recent study published in the Journal Of Neuroscience analyzed how long emotions persist in people who experience sudden events. Researchers found that savouring a beautiful sunset and the emotions associated with it, for instance, contributes to improved overall well-being. Those who can savour and sustain positive emotions for longer are generally happier—and less likely to complain.
Lead The Way—Others Will Follow
According to a new study published in Evolution And Human Behavior, our actions set standards that others take notice of—including our peers.
“People are conformist—and that’s a good thing for cultural evolution,” explained Michael Muthukrishna, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia who co-authored the study. “By being conformist, we copy the things that are popular in the world. And those things are often good and useful.”
Teach budding talent to measure and appreciate their own gains on their own terms.
While that holds true for colleagues working at the same level, it’s likely even more important for managers. This can become more difficult for less experienced leaders or those who oversee a team of high-achievers who are particularly competitive. And psychologists have also found that people with higher IQs are less likely to follow the pack as much. But that’s all the more reason to model the behaviours you want mirrored everywhere on your team for the highest-performing members of it.
Rather than promoting a culture of self-evaluation based on others’ successes thanks to unspoken criteria, you can teach budding talent to measure and appreciate their own gains on their own terms. And that positive outlook will catch on. Because we now understand how individuals’ feelings influence collective mindsets, we should make sure the emotions transferred from team member to team member are positive. This way, a little casual complaining around the water cooler now and that will remain just that.
[Photo: Monkey Business Images via Shutterstock]