Your Emotions are Contagious
We're all familiar with the warnings - don't shake hands with people who have a cold or the flu. Through science we know that germs are contagious. But did you know that feelings can be transmitted even faster?
The growing field of neurobiology has found that emotions - both positive and negative - are quickly transferred from person to person, often without either party realizing it. Emotional contagion happens in a matter of seconds. Brain science research has shown that mirror neurons are responsible. And because we are social animals whose survival depends on understanding the actions and emotions of others, these mirror neurons help us to anticipate and respond. Mirror neurons are special circuitry in our brains that help us. We humans are really good at reading faces and judging moods. This allows us to connect, sometimes very deeply, when we watch other people.
It turns out this phenomenon depends on a basic, even primal, instinct. During conversation, humans unconsciously tend to mimic and synchronize the other person's facial expressions, posture, body language and speech rhythms. Think about it. We get so worked up when our football team loses. We cry at movies. We feel joyful when our children succeed.
In the past it's been called empathy, one of our finer human characteristics; the ability to understand and respond to the needs and feelings of others. Now science has an explanation for why this occurs. Mirror neurons. Brain cells found on either side of the head with surprising power.
The discovery of this scientific fact was quite accidental in Parma, Italy in the 1990's. Thin wires were implanted into the movement region of a monkey's brain. Every time the monkey moved an object, some cells in that brain region would fire, and a monitor would register a sound. A graduate student entered the lab with an ice cream cone in his hand. When the student raised the cone to his lips, the monitor recorded the same sound, even though the monkey had not moved. Neurons fired in the monkey's brain when it simply observed the student grasping the cone and moving it to his mouth.
This monkey-see-monkey-do phenomenon, it turns out, is ever more fascinating in humans. Our mirror neurons are far smarter, more flexible and more highly evolved than any of those found in monkeys, a fact that scientists say reflects the evolution of humans' sophisticated social abilities. Add to that the fact that our brains are ‘meaning machines’ - we constantly try to predict the future based on past experience.
Empathy - mirror neurons - might just be the most important factor for negotiating our social environments. When we attend to the people around us, we become better at anticipating how they will respond…and how we can influence them more effectively. In the business world, this is the critical factor for success. Followers mirror their leaders, literally.
You may be reading this and thinking, “That makes sense.” The challenge is how will you use this knowledge to improve your leadership? Mirror neurons allow us to grasp the minds of others, not through conceptual reasoning but by feeling. So what do you feel when you walk through the door of your office? Your mood is reflected in the mood of your team…and if you don’t like what you see in the “mirror,” try the ACE approach to change it.
So what will you do in the next 24 hours to recognize and change the effect you have on your dental team? If you have the courage, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at email@example.com
Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.
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