Our brain is wired to imitate others – when we are in the presence of people, our mirror neurons (our learning neurons functioning by imitating and sharing with people around us) activate, and allow us to simulate in our brain the emotional state of the interlocutor, which makes us inclined to imitate and adopt the detected emotion ourselves (positive or negative). For example, when we see someone smile, we are likely to smile as well. Emotions are contagious.
This ability to sync with others is a sub-product of the way our brains have evolved. By copying emotions, attitudes and behaviors of those around us, we are in harmony, and get along better – a very useful practice in the past, when belonging to a group meant the difference between life and death.
This emotional contagion happens within a few milliseconds and is one of the many processes executed instinctively and unconsciously by our brain.
This tendency to sync our emotions is not always beneficial in the workplace, especially when we are surrounded with colleagues with a negative attitude, or if we work with unpleasant clients.
Since we are born to emulate the emotions of those around us, we risk adopting toxic feelings (anger, cynicism, irritation, etc.) which we will then pass on to others, by activating their circuits. It becomes a vicious cycle which has a negative impact not only on our attitude and performance but also on the work climate and on the customer service quality.
Let’s picture for a second that your desk neighbor is in a bad mood this morning – as usual. You feel his bad mood immediately (he just contaminated you) and you decide to go get a coffee so as to walk away. While walking towards the coffee machine, you think about how unpleasant it is to work with him. Absorbed in these thoughts, you walk by a colleague whom you quickly and absent-mindedly greet. Your negative emotions are then perceived by this colleague (you just contaminated him), who walks away thinking about why you were so unpleasant to him this morning. Preoccupied by your behavior towards him, he is distracted and doesn’t notice the customer waiting at the counter, who becomes irritated from having been neglected (he has just been contaminated). This is an example of how a workplace climate can be ruined and the service quality therefore downgraded, without anyone understanding why.
Our emotions condition our interpersonal relationships, they have a big impact on other people’s mood and they have the power to positively or negatively influence our way of interacting and communicating with our environment.
Customer service is an emotional industry and not only accepts emotional expression, but demands it, as customer satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) largely depends on the emotional climate of the exchange with the service provider and organization.
We have the power to “contaminate” others. But we also have the “professional responsibility” to develop our emotional management skills and to define how our emotions can be put to the service of our relationships with colleagues and customers, and how they can contribute to their satisfaction, rather than hindering it.
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Xavier Aymé, Chef des opérations | Mercator Canada Inc.
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