In a previous post, we discussed being mindful of the energy (also known as emotional energy) in group environments and how to identify when a meeting is being sabotaged by an individual’s negative energy.
What is negative energy then, and why is it important for teams and their leaders be aware of it?
In addition to our verbal and non-verbal communication, we all transmit signals to the outside world about how we’re responding to it – that’s the emotional energy that we put out. If we feel deflated or unengaged, it’s often something that others will feel and may impact how they feel, but have a hard time articulating how they can sense it. Psychologists refer to this as emotional contagion. When we talk about energy, we’re not talking about it in the physical energy capacity. Although, we are often able to feel when something isn’t working between people in a group environment, there’s no clear mathematical equation to measure the emotional energy that someone is putting out.
This emotional energy is strongly connected to a person’s internal state. It’s largely dependent on if their needs, both physical and emotional, are being met and if they feel like they are in a safe environment. When we are in a good or neutral state, negative things can happen and people are able to brush them off as minor nuisances. If, however someone is in a negative or emotional state, their perceptions and interpretations of the world will be impacted and as such, their interpersonal interactions will too. When this happens, the emotional energy coming from the person can quickly sabotage working groups – even from a distance.
Today, we’re going to explore some tips for how to recognize your contribution to the energy of the workplace, how to minimize negative energy in the workplace and how to foster positive energy to create behaviour that is congruent with team and company goals.
First things first, what energy are you bringing to your team?
Being mindful of the energy you bring in to each meeting is a good first place to start. As the team leader, bringing a positive vibe to meetings can help knock out any negative energy before it gets a chance to fester. Tony Swartz, President & CEO of The Energy Project and blog writer for the Harvard Business Review writes that: “The most fundamental job of a leader is to recruit, mobilize, inspire, focus, direct and regularly refuel the energy of those they lead.” Being aware of the energy you bring in to the room will better allow you to lead your team to focus on the energy they are putting out to their colleagues.
Is there an energy bandit at play?
In one of Swartz’s blog posts for The Energy Project, he shares a story about a new senior executive who, in a relatively short period of time, was able to detract from the highly positive year the company had been experiencing and create a destructive energy that was transmitted around the office. Swartz held himself responsible for allowing the executive to influence him, which then influenced his team. Instead of beating himself up, he used it as a learning opportunity. In addition to recognizing that it’s often difficult to leave our emotions at home and people need to be mindful of this when engaging in interpersonal situations, he identified that the emotions people bring to the team are as important as someone’s cognitive skills. When hiring, this can be an important consideration to take in to account.
That said, if you’re dealing with an already established team and you’re noticing that negative conversations are taking place more frequently, or problems are being identified without solutions being brought to the table, it’s possible that you’re dealing with an energy bandit. Take a step back and try to be objective in your reflection of the situation.
By stopping and assessing where the negative energy is coming from, you can determine if it’s one person that’s poisoning the workplace atmosphere, or a group of people who are potentially congruent in the negative vibes that are being transmitted. Because negative emotions can move quickly in a virtual environment and influence easily, it can zap motivation and momentum before you even know it’s an issue. This is why it’s best to be highly attuned to the team’s morale – if someone is not contributing to a positive morale, it may be time to have a conversation with them to find out what’s happening with them and why.
It’s important to note that there’s a difference between negative energy and constructive feedback. Sometimes a negative outlook is appropriate to the situation. Sitting back and listening, as well as asking open ended questions and repeating what you think you’ve heard are all good ways to determine clarity around if someone is being negative, or if their points are a legitimate point of conversation.
In virtual environments, we frequently don’t have cues such as facial expression and body language. We frequently make our own interpretations based on our assumptions about who is saying it and the situation being dealt with. Listening intently and asking for clarification are good ways to determine if negative energy is seeping in, or not. If you determine that the person is being negative, acknowledge their concerns and change the group focus to developing solutions to the issues. Guide the team towards thinking of what will work, versus what won’t work and why.
Being mindful of what you are bringing to the team, as well as the energy you feel circulating in the virtual atmosphere isn’t easy. The more you practice, the better you will get but seeing progress may take some time. Also, distractions can easily derail even your best intentions, so it’s important to stay focused on what you want to achieve with your team in respect to the energy going in and coming out of the work.
Often, when we experience set-backs, we allow negative talk to invade our thoughts and we get derailed. When there’s a hitch in the plan, instead of derailing, try focusing on what is working to bring that positive energy back in. Publilius Syrus, a 1st century BC Latin writer is said to have written, “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” By bringing your positive energy to your work, you can hold the helm regardless of what the sea is serving up.
Visit us in two weeks when we look at techniques to manage negative energy on your team. We’d love to hear from you on what you struggle with, or if you have ideas on how to respond to negative energy – drop us a line!