Have you ever walked into a room of people and you could feel the tension in the air? I know I have. Apparently, research shows that emotions positive or negative are contagious. In other words, we tend to take on the feeling in the room.
A perfect example… in a relationship, you may be in a great mood and your spouse is angry. Instantly, without your knowledge, you’re emotional state changes to being anger or negative. In many case, this change in emotional state may cause an argument, stonewalling (emotional shutting down), or impatience with your partners feelings.
I had a profound realization that many times, negative feelings are not mine but a reaction to someone else. In other words, I was in a good mood and because someone else was in a bad mood, I let them infect my mood like a virus.
I was reflecting on this reality for a few weeks and asked how I could stop myself from being infected with negative attitudes. Well, the answer came from the strangest source – the A&E show Psychic Kids.
We had relatives over for our daughter’s birthday and our son was watching Psychic Kids. I really don’t have an opinion on whether these kids are psychic or not, but I do believe that most of these kids seem to have an acute sense of people’s feelings and emotions.
In this episode, one of the kids was experiencing difficulty with angry feeling of spirits and Chip, the psychic host, said let the emotions flow through you.
Eureka! That’s the answer. True Empathy is feeling the other’s emotions flow through you but not to take them on yourself. For the last week, I started to test the theory.
It’s pretty amazing the difference. For example, we lined up start a class. I could tell something was not right with one student. Now, in the past, I would pass judgment and think he or she really doesn’t want to be here, or they don’t have a Black Belt Attitude. This time, I asked, “You seem troubled today. Are you okay?” Here, I find out that her dog that she’s really fond of went to the hospital today. Wow, no wonder - her attitude was suffering.
This technique works great with my wife, Ester. When she upset or anger, I found in the past I would take on the same feeling. Instead of one upset person, we’d have two. Now, when I feel the upset or anger welling up inside, I quietly remind myself that I am not the one upset but she is… that I am feeling her upset. This puts me in a better mindset for handling her emotions and the outcome is better.
One last note: With all this talk about how negative feelings are contagious, it’s also true that positive feelings are contagious too. The good news is that research shows that positive emotions are more contagious than negative emotions. What is the most contagious emotion? Laughter. They found that if someone genuinely laughs that we are hardwired to laugh along. So if you find yourself in that tense boardroom, crack a joke.