Through their confidence in the team, leaders can set an emotional tone and shape expectations that produce initial wins. Winning certainly puts people in a good mood. Then emotional contagion kicks in to spread that mood and reinforce positive expectations. Winning begets winning.
Moods are catching, especially among people who know they depend on one another. Moods spread from person to person in sur-prisingly subtle ways, yet they have a big influence. “Primitive emotional contagion” is the unconscious tendency to mimic another person’s facial expressions, tone of voice, posture, and movements, even when one is focused on other things and is seemingly unaware of the model for the mood. This synchronizing of a sad or happy tone of voice, for example, is often unconscious, as though the human brain is hard-wired to get in tune with other people, because it is more pleasant to have a sense of rapport. Being out of tune is jarring and makes people feel isolated.
Happiness clues that spread positive moods seem to be a little stronger than sadness signals, but that depends on circumstances. Anger contagion is certainly strong in real life, leading to mob behavior as people incite one another to violence. Emotional contagion can even be mediated by technology. Television producers must believe that their laugh tracks work, but auto horns were the mediator of an irritation contagion I witnessed the other night in a traffic jam. Still, since positive emotions draw people together and negative emotions tend to push them apart, as people want to withdraw from sad situations, it is not surprising that contagion effects are stronger for good moods.
Good moods are both causes and effects. Winning puts people in a good mood, and being in a good mood makes it easier to win. The contagion of positive emotions can help improve cooperation, decrease conflict, and underscore more-positive perceptions of everyone’s task performance. Negative emotions have the reverse effect.
These associations are stronger for people already well connected to one another, because they’ve worked together in the past and expect to continue to be together. Emotional contagion has been confirmed in scientific measurement of the moods of English professional cricket teams during matches. (Note to Americans: Cricket is a really slow game, so there is ample time for research.) Not surprisingly, everyone played better when the whole team was in a good mood. Or perhaps they were in a good mood because they were playing well for a change.