The coaching edge: how emotional contagion propels positive behaviours

20th February by Karen Smart

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The influence of emotions cannot be underestimated, especially in the workplace where business can be complex, fast paced and highly pressurised. Emotional contagion, the phenomenon where one person’s emotions and related behaviours can impact and spread to others can play a significant role in shaping team dynamics and relationships.

In this context, line managers who have been coached or who are armed with coaching skills can emerge as powerful catalysts for positive change. They not only navigate their own emotional states better, but they can become agents in cultivating a workplace culture brimming with positivity.

Emotional contagion in the workplace and the ripple effect

Environmental contagion is like a like a silent force that permeates the workplace environment, impacting the mood, energy, performance and overall morale of a team. People catch an emotional stimulus from vocal tones and facial expressions as well as from the overall behaviour demonstrated by those they work alongside.

When a manager exudes positivity, resilience and growth mindset, these emotions tend to infect direct reports positively. Conversely, a manager radiating negative emotions such as stress or uncertainty can trigger a cloud of pessimism among the team members.

Indeed, negative emotional contagion is the easier to spread so it is crucial that managers and leaders understand the ripple effect if they are aiming to foster a healthier and more productive workplace atmosphere. As the so called “workplace therapist” Brandon Smith discusses in his TEDx talk – Are Emotions Contagious in the Workplace? – having an increased awareness of our emotions is important at work and noticing how you feel when you engage with a senior manager is a good indicator of how good that boss actually is.

Research suggests that emotions are contagious and the emotional state set by a manager significantly influences team dynamics and performance. This is where coaching skills come into play because they bring sustainable change in behaviour and can function as a strategic tool to navigate and leverage emotional contagion in favour of their team members.

The coaching advantage – navigating emotional contagion

Managers equipped with coaching skills possess a heightened emotional intelligence that enables them to recognise, understand and regulate their own emotions more effectively.

This self-awareness is foundational in steering the emotional contagion within the team or with direct reports. When a line manager can control their own emotional state, they become better prepared to influence the emotional climate of the team positively.

Coaching emphasises active listening, empathy and fostering open communication. Managers with coaching backgrounds naturally create an environment where team members feel heard, understood and valued. This open dialogue serves as a buffer and helps in channelling collective energy towards shared goals. The result is a team that is not only more resilient, but also more inclined to propagate a positive emotional contagion.

A positive mindset is a management superpower

Coaching-driven managers understand the power of cultivating a positive mindset within their teams. Positive psychology suggests that a positive outlook not only enhances individual wellbeing, but also has a ripple effect on those around the line manager. Managers who coach their direct reports instil a growth mindset that focuses on learning from challenges, embracing change and fostering resilience.

The positive mindset becomes a management superpower in navigating the complexities of today’s workplace. When faced with setbacks or challenges, a team led by a coaching orientated manager is more likely to view them as opportunities for growth rather than insurmountable obstacles. This adaptive mindset not only boosts morale but helps create the optimum conditions for innovation and creativity.

The ripple becomes a wave – transformative management in action

Managers with a coaching approach can not only manage emotional contagion effectively but also actively shape the emotional culture of their teams. By role modelling a positive mindset and behaviours, these managers can create a wave of positivity that extends beyond the immediate team to influence the entire organisation.

In recent research – From One to Many: The Coaching Ripple Effect - published by people development platform Torch, findings included that “direct reports see their managers change from coaching in multiple ways.” It reported that 94% of respondents saw positive changes in their manager because of coaching, with an emphasis on strengthening communication skills.

The research highlighted that not only do workers see and feel the impact of the manager being coached, but that they too experience changes in their own skills, mindsets and experience as a result. In addition, the impact of the coaching also influences key business metrics like retention, performance and promotions.

In a coaching style of management or leadership, feedback is constructive and growth orientated rather than punitive. This approach instils a sense of trust and psychological safety with their teams, further amplifying the positive emotional contagion. Direct reports become more engaged, motivated and aligned with the organisation’s goals, creating a synergistic effect that propels the organisation as a whole forward.

The emotional climate of a workplace can shape organisational culture and those with a coaching style stand out as architects of a resilient, positive and high-performing teams. The ripple effect initiated by these managers transcends individual interactions, creating a wave of possibility that can transform the workplace into a thriving ecosystem of growth, collaboration and success.