How You Impact Your Team with Emotions

January 23, 2015

your emotions impact your team

People in any group naturally pay more attention to and place more significance on what the most powerful person in that group says and does. Higher social status generally comes with an attention deficiency for those beneath them. This attention gap amplifies the force of whatever emotional message the leader may be sending, making her emotions particularly contagious.

As I heard one executive say rather ruefully, When my mind is full of anger, other people catch it like the flu.” In this sense, leadership boils down to a series of social exchanges in which the leader can drive the other person’s emotions into a better or worse state.

Displeasure Isn’t the Answer

Many effective leaders sense that, like compliments, well-titrated doses of irritation can energize. The measure of how well-calibrated a message of displeasure might be is performance. Does it move people toward peak performance or plummet them past the tipping point to where distress corrodes performance?

While a boss’s artfully couched displeasure can be an effective goad, fuming is self-defeating as a leadership tactic. When leaders habitually use displays of bad moods to motivate, more work may seem to get done – but it will not necessarily be better work. Inefficiency becomes the norm, and the team’s panicked efforts to please their manager lead to poor decisions and ineffective strategies.

Relentlessly foul moods corrode the emotional climate, sabotaging the brain’s ability to work at its best. Biologically, the stew of stress hormones secreted when a person is upset takes hours to become reabsorbed in the body and fade away. That’s why a sour relationship with a boss can leave a person a captive of that distress, with a mind preoccupied and a body unable to calm itself.

Dan Goleman focus

Empathize and Energize

There are other powerful reasons for leaders to be mindful of what they say to employees. For example, people recall negative interactions with a boss with more intensity, in more detail, and more often than they do positive ones. The ease with which demotivation can spread from a boss makes it all the more imperative for him to act in ways that make the emotions left behind uplifting ones.

Callousness from a boss not only heightens the risk of losing good people, it torpedoes cognitive efficiency. A socially intelligent leader helps people contain and recover from their emotional distress. In a positive interaction, the team member feels a socially intelligent leader’s attention and empathy, support, and positivity. In negative interactions, he feels isolated and threatened. If only from a business perspective, a leader would do well to react with empathy rather than indifference – and to act on it.

To learn more about superlative workplace communication and conflict resolution, register for the American Management Association course Leading with Emotional Intelligence.

Additional resources to develop emotionally intelligent management skills:

Resonant Leadership: Inspiring Others Through Emotional Intelligence

Leadership: A Master Class

What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters

Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence

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Effective management requires truly motivating your team. Enhance your management skills with these AMA resources and seminars.

About The Author

Daniel Goleman is an internationally known psychologist who lectures frequently to professional groups, business audiences, and on college campuses. As a science journalist, Goleman reported on the brain and behavioral sciences for The New York Times for many years. His 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence, a Times bestseller for a year and a half—with more than 5,000,000 copies in print worldwide in 40 languages—has also been a bestseller in many countries. He has written books on other topics as well, including self-deception, creativity, transparency, meditation, social and emotional learning, ecoliteracy and the ecological crisis.


  1. avatar

    Andy, I agree anger is not always bad and sometimes is necessary to move things along. Like your concept. I suggest two things in my EFTI programs:

    (1) “Three strikes and you are out” which is a measured approach when someone is not performing up to expectation. Start gently and hopefully, next express concern, and finally, with a bit of force let the person know things must improve or else.

    (2) The CARE Response: C = Confront; A = Ally; R = Review; E = End on a positive note. As a foster parent and then a boss of mental health programs, stress often meant dealing with unacceptable behavior which few people like or accept gracefully. C means confronting; you might sound or actually be angry. Not always, but often. A means realizing you are dealing with a person and need to be respectful; id NFEY, you need to take a breath, lower your voice, and sometimes even admitting your anger might have been over the top. R = seeing what the other person thinks got you going by asking “Do you know what I am talking about?” E = expecting and asking for ideas about changing, then ending on a positive note.

    I suspect your would call that managed irritation. Managing feelings is the point of EI.

  2. avatar

    I believe in what I call Managed Irritation. While it is never good to lose control and explode, or otherwise show disrespect of employees, I do believe a manager showing some irritation in certain situations can be productive. Especially when a manager feels an employee is willfully stonewalling, either to protect his or her territory, continuing a way of working which no longer makes sense, or because the employee just likes to do things his or her own way. All this is predicated, of course, on initial conversations, with the manager explaining why a certain task needs to be done and when, and making sure the employee has adequate resources for the job.

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