The Achoo! Effect: 3 Reasons Others Benefit from Your Good Mood

Woman sneezing at work while coworker looks at her.

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“Achoo!” That might make you think of a cold spreading around the office. Well, there’s something just as powerful as that. It’s called emotional contagion. Your mood, be it positive or negative, can spread just as fast as germs. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? Think of what happens when you smile at a baby. The baby often smiles back; this is in part due to an incredible part of our brain called “mirror neurons”—we mirror emotional interactions.

How does this translate to the workplace?

1) Emotions are contagious.

Sigal Barsade of Wharton business school has found that both good and bad moods are contagious. In fact, if there are five people in a group, if even one is in a good or bad mood, he can “infect” the others with that mood. So be mindful of how you come across to others.

2) The boss’s emotions are EVEN MORE contagious.

You’d better believe it. In a research study in which one participant in each group was asked to be the “leader,” the leader’s mood had an effect on group coordination. Specifically, half the leaders were put into a good mood by watching a funny David Letterman video and half were put into a bad mood by watching a disturbing video about social injustice. Each set of leaders unconsciously conveyed that mood to their team. The bottom line? Teams led by the good-mood leaders had better coordination than did the teams led by the bad-mood leaders.

3) Your work (and your team’s work) is affected by your mood.

In one study, leaders in more positive moods had better team sales than did those in worse moods. As Cindi Bigelow, CEO and President of Bigelow Tea says, “Leaders cannot afford the luxury of a negative mood.”

So remember the Achoo! Effect—emotions are contagious. Are you spreading cheer or fear?


Margaret H. Greenberg and Senia Maymin, Ph.D.are organizational consultants and executive coaches. You can find more information at www.ProfitFromThePositive.com. Their new book is Profit from the Positive: Proven Leadership Strategies to Boost Productivity and Transform Your Business (McGraw-Hill Professional, 2013).

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