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The way leaders use positivity when communicating with employees can make a huge impact on their emotional well-being and their performance. I was really surprised how big the impact of these interactions can be. Goleman looked at several ways this can happen in Social Intelligence.
In one experiment, the emotional tone of a leader delivering news to an employee made more impact that the news itself. When negative feedback was delivered with a warm tone, the employees usually rated the interaction positively. On the other hand, good news, such as achieving a goal, delivered with a negative tone would leave employees feeling bad.
The emotional state of a leader can rub off on employees even when they're not sharing feedback specifically. Just being more upbeat can improve the emotional state of your employees, as well as helping them to be more efficient and coordinate better.
Employees are also more likely to remember negative interactions than positive ones, and to spread the negativity among other employees.
When sharing feedback with employees, negatively-focused discussions are more likely to increase feelings of guilt, fear and anxiety. As I mentioned earlier, these emotions work against our cognitive abilities, forcing us into a spiral of being stressed about the need to improve, while our brains are too busy being stressed for us to actually improve.
In Focus, Goleman looked at how talking about positive goals and dreams can be a better way to encourage employess. Richard Boyatzis, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University explained that focusing on what someone needs to do to fix themselves will effectively close them down to new possibilities or ideas.
Boyatzis did an experiment on college students, scanning their brains during interviews about college life. For one group, the interviews focused on positive outlookswhere they hoped to be in ten years, and what they wanted to gain from college. The other group had a negatively-focused interview where they talked about the stresses and fears of college life, struggles in their performance and workload and troubles in making new friends.
As you might expect, the areas of the brain related to negative emotions like anxiety and sadness were more often activated during the negative interviews. During the positive interviews, more activity was seen in the brain's reward circuitry and areas related to happy memories and positive emotions.
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