Humans are Mood Inductors

In her 2002 study “The Ripple Effect: Emotional Contagion and Its Influence on Group Behavior,” Sigal G. Barsade called human beings “walking mood inductors.” What a great description of human beings and the emotional influence we have on each other.


We know that inductors are devices that temporarily store energy in the form of a magnetic field. I’ll let you Google the word if you’d like to learn more, but it’s a great metaphor to describe what human beings do with emotions. We are temporary storage units for emotions, not just our own, but the emotions conveyed by other tribe members.


Barsade found that emotions are contagions that effect both collective performance and energy. When a tribe circles, it’s easy to underestimate the power of tribal emotions both on the mood and productivity. It only takes one powerful emotional contagion to shift an entire meeting, strategy, or initiative. Unnecessary and often unproductive swings in direction can be the result of the giving and receiving of emotions. That giving and receiving is happening whether we acknowledge it or not.


Weaving Emotions Into Strategic Conversations

Over three decades of working with tribes, I’ve noticed that effective tribes, and their leaders, are not afraid to recognize how emotions are influencing a moment or a process. They do this because they know that great possibilities can be undone when powerful emotions negatively consume the moment. What ingenious tribes also know is that emotions can increase engagement and effectiveness as much as they can derail them.


The question is not should we allow emotion to influence engagement, but rather how can emotion influence engagement in both positive and realistic ways. Here are three ideas your tribe can use to leverage the power of emotional contagions often stored in the inductors of tribe members:


  • Monitor emotional contagions as they occur–Don’t ignore strong or influential emotions when they occur. Ingenious tribe members notice their emotional reactions during conversations and own them.


  • Integrate emotional contagions into the conversation–Integrate strong emotions into the conversation. Emotional reactions are usually connected to a specific idea within  the strategic conversation. Make the connection between the reaction and the content and mine for the “why” of the connection.


  • Find the good energy and layered strategy in the contagion–An emotional reaction creates a “slowing effect” on the conversation. This, slowing-down-of-the-moment, enables a deeper exploration of disagreements or complex ideas. In this way the emotional reaction often opens up new strategic ideas that can be layered into an emerging strategy and the conversation at hand.


Adapted from, Tribal Alchemy: Turning What You Have Into What You Need. Dave Fleming. 2016. A Tribal Alchemy Resource.