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If your boss is grouchy today, chances are that you are, too: Leaders’ moods quickly spread to those around them, says a study from the Journal of Applied Psychology.
In the study, volunteers formed teams, with one member designated to lead the others in completing a task. Researchers found that the members adopted their leaders’ moods, for good or bad, within minutes.
The study is one of the latest on what psychologists call emotional contagion. Researchers say that moods spread partly because we—mostly unconsciously—mimic the body language and facial expressions of the people we interact with. And adopting the posture and expressions that fit an emotion sets off a response in the body that actually creates that emotion.
How can you make this work for you, and not against you? Bo Forbes, a yoga therapist and psychologist in Boston, suggests setting boundaries on how much you’ll let another person’s mood affect you, and on how much you’re willing to share someone’s emotional state just to feel connected to that person. “Find little statements to say to yourself, such as, ‘My boss feels this way, I don’t, and that’s OK,’” she advises.
Setting these limits doesn’t mean we’re not abiding by yoga’s principle of compassion. In fact, Forbes points out that taking on another’s emotional state goes against another yogic principle: detachment. “There is always dramatic scenery around us—but it’s just scenery,” she says. “Tomorrow it will be gone and replaced by something else. We don’t need to get caught up in it.”