Imagine strolling into work and bumping into a grim-faced manager who barely acknowledges you as he makes his way down the hallway. What thoughts and feelings erupt? Are you confused? Deflated? Wishing it weren’t Monday?
Later in the day, you find yourself giving an update to this same boss. While he is not quite as stern-faced as he was earlier this morning, his body language and facial expressions project annoyance and dissatisfaction. During the update, he jots down a few notes, and offers a terse, “That has to be fixed,” in response to a problem you highlight. When you complete your update, he provides a snippy, “OK,” which you take as your signal to leave.
How are you holding up now? Chances are, the story playing out in your mind is negative. Thoughts like, “What did I do wrong?” or “Am I in trouble?” are probably present, and if this behavior from your boss has been consistent, it wouldn’t be surprising if you think to yourself, “Time to update my resume.”
Now, rewind the clock to the start of the day and imagine those same two scenarios with very different dynamics. As you stroll through the hall, the manager greets you with a warm smile and direct eye contact, “Good morning! I’m looking forward to your update this afternoon.”
During the meeting, he asks sensible questions, including how he might secure more help for your initiatives, and thanks you for the clarity of your update. What are you thinking and feeling now?
It doesn’t take a great deal of scientific understanding to know the negative and positive implications of these divergent experiences. The human brain is wired to actively scan its environment for unpleasant things we should avoid and enjoyable things we should rush toward—even at work. And the last thirty years of neuroscience studies have revealed what many of us knew all along: negative emotional experiences put people in a defensive mode that is counterproductive to individual and team performance.
Thankfully, if you know someone or *deep breath* you are someone who tends to set a negative emotional tone at work, this doesn’t have to be a permanent condition. If we can spot this behavior, we can address it and, subsequently, cultivate a more productive team. Here are a few practical ways we can shift our emotional tone.
Set Your Attitude Before the Workday Starts
Years ago, David observed a mentor who would sit in his truck in the parking lot for ten minutes every day before entering the office. When asked about what this leader was doing, he answered, “I’m preparing my attitude for the day.” Spending a few minutes in quiet contemplation can push out the stress of the early morning rush and focus our attention on the positive impact we want to have on our teams. By the time we walk in the door, our goals have been clarified, and our approach to the team has been determined.
Recalibrate Periodically Throughout the Day
Bad things happen. Meetings don’t go as planned. Peers aren’t always as helpful as we would like for them to be. Customers complain. At work, we’re going to deal with our fair share of frustrations; the key is not letting these frustrations leak into other environments. Unfortunately, many leaders roll from one experience to the next, bringing their emotional baggage with them. To minimize emotional exposure, start blocking small amounts of time throughout the day to recalibrate. Even five to ten minutes of meditation has been shown to positively impact a person’s mood.
Treat Mistakes and Misfires as an Opportunity to Learn and Grow
People and teams make mistakes, and how we react to those mistakes impacts group behaviors in the future. No leader is excited when her/his team makes a mistake. However, effective leaders help individuals and groups look for the lesson to be learned when blunders happen. Sure, you can show momentary frustration at the predicament, but help people turn the circumstance around by generating ideas to strengthen future performance. There is a difference between building a culture of accountability and triggering fear when someone or some team fails.
Final Thought: People often take their emotional cues from the top. To succeed in leadership, we must tune into the impact we’re having on others.