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How to Use Your Super Power for Good - Peter Bregman - Harvard Business Review

How to Use Your Super Power for Good - Peter Bregman - Harvard Business Review

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Peter BregmanPeter Bregmanspeaks, writes, andconsults on leadership. He is the CEO ofBregman Partners, Inc., a globalmanagement consulting firm, and theauthor of
Point B: A Short Guide To Leading a Big Change 
.Sign upto receivean email when he posts.
How to Use Your Super Power for Good
10:45 AM Tuesday February 15, 2011 |
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[For more, visit theCommunication Insight Center.]I folded my bike and carried it into the lobby of the officebuilding in midtown Manhattan. The security guard behind thedesk looked up at me, grimaced, then looked down again andgrowled something indecipherable."Excuse me?" I asked.He sighed loudly and didn't say anything for a moment. Then,without bothering to look at me, he said, "You're not comingin here with that."I was already jittery because of a near miss with a taxi on theride over, and this deflated me even more. It wasn't hismessage — I've faced many security guards who don't like topermit bicycles into their buildings — it was his cold,disdainful tone.I tried to stay calm and upbeat. I showed him how small itwas, folded. I told him I had a bag I could put it in. Herepeated the same line.Finally, after citing theThe Bicycle Access to Office BuildingsLaw, which requires New York City buildings with freightelevators to admit bicycles, he let me in.When I made it to the freight elevator, I smiled at theoperator who was joking with some construction workers. Helooked at me then looked back at his friends and kept talking.I waited uncomfortably for several minutes, and then askedhim if he would take me to the 19th floor. He said somethingrude to his friends about tenants, took me up in silence, andleft me in a small vestibule with a locked door but no clearway to enter.He shut his door as I was asking him how to get in. "Trypushing the button," he barked through the closed elevatordoor. I saw the button he meant and pushed. At this point Iwas feeling lower than low.Then, like magic, my morning changed."Hi! You must be Peter. Welcome!" Lisa*, the receptionist, sang as she opened the door. Shesmiled, and then looked worried. "Why did you come up in the freight?"I explained my morning and she frowned empathetically. "I'm so sorry, That's terrible. Here, let metake your bike."I could have cried from happiness. In one second, Lisa turned my emotions around, from thenegative spiral of anger, frustration, and despair to the positive spiral of relief, appreciation, andhappiness.And that's when I realized: We all have super powers.We can make people feel good or bad by as simple a thing as a gesture, an expression, a word, ora tone of voice.But wait. Can I really blame my grumpiness on you? Isn't each person responsible for his or herown mood?Here's what we know: Like the common cold, emotions are contagious.Caroline Bartel at New
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How to Use Your Super Power for Good - Peter Bregman - Harvard Busi...http://blogs.hbr.org/bregman/2011/02/how-to-use-your-super-power-fo.html2 of 82/25/2011 1:31 PM
 
York University and Richard Saavedra at the University of Michigan studied 70 work groupsacrossa variety of industries and found that people who worked together ended up sharing moods, goodand bad. Moods converge.This is particularly important to understand for people in positions of authority because leaders,more than anyone, set and spread the mood. If you've ever worked in an office, you know this fromexperience. If the boss is in a bad mood, conflicts increase. If she's in a good mood, people lightenup.Does that mean we aren't responsible if we snap at someone in the hallway? That it's really thefault of the guy who bumped into us on the subway and didn't apologize?Look at it this way: If you catch a cold from someone, does that mean you can go around sneezingon everyone else? You might be able to blame your mood on someone else, but you're stillresponsible for what you pass to others.Nevertheless, it's hard to completely avoid infecting others when you have a cold. Several yearsago I was asked to coach Renée, a senior manager in a retail company, who was receivingfeedback that she was too harsh with her employees. She often raised her voice, criticized themmercilessly for mistakes, and humiliated them for not knowing things.When I spoke to others in the office, I found out that the CEO to whom Renée reported treated hisdirect reports the same way. He was short-tempered, yelled a lot, and demanded perfection fromothers.That didn't make it okay for Renée to treat her direct reports that way; it just made it harder for hernot to.Which is a problem for the business because mood affects performance. According to researchdone by Sigal Barsade at Yale University, positive moods improved cooperation, decreasedconflict, and increased performance.So what's the solution?Know your emotions, be in touch with your moods, and think of them like the common cold. If youfeel infected by bad cheer, take a deep breath, recognize how you're feeling, and choose not topass it on.Instead, treat people with the empathy, care, and good humor that will make them feel happier,more connected, and more productive.Here's the good news: Barsade's research found that positive moods are just as contagious asnegative moods.Is it really a choice though? If you're in a bad mood, can you decide to be happy? I find it hard,inauthentic, even dishonest, to do feign happiness.But I have found a pretty simple solution to turning it all around: Kindness.No matter how bad a mood I'm in, I've found it pretty straightforward to treat others with kindness.And that, invariably, has a positive affect on those around me, which, as we've seen, has a positiveaffect on me. And, voilà, my mood changes for the better.When Lisa brought me to my client's office, I told him how my ugly morning had been turned aroundby his delightful receptionist. He responded with a story of his own. Once, when Lisa was sick andcouldn't come to work, a quiet and reserved man named Frank, acted as receptionist for the day.Frank was not the sing-song type.But he was used to Lisa's good cheer. Each morning, like everyone else in the office, he receivedher buoyant emails welcoming people to the office. And, on this particular day, when he was askedto fill in for Lisa, the mere memory of her lighthearted emotions was enough to influence Frank.First thing that morning, on his own initiative, Frank wrote an email to the whole office that read:
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