We know from science that nothing in the universe exists as an isolated or independent entity. – Margaret Wheatley
Didn’t your mother tell you to give a firm handshake, smile and look them in the eye when you meet someone? Gotta make a good impression right? That smile was supposed to convey your own confidence and likability. Turns out that smile didn’t just help people to like you, it also made them happy – made them smile. The inverse is true – as Shawn Achor describes, just watch in a crowded airport as one person approaches a boarding gate nervous, anxious, and expressing the human indicators of tapping toes, and checking their watch. Within minutes more than half the people around them will exhibit the same symptoms of nervous anxiety. Try this experiment with caution – only if you want to intentionally create negative tension! The mirror neurons in our brain are so powerful that it’s nearly impossible to not smile when smiled at, feel emotional anxiety when you see someone crying, and of course yawn when you see someone yawn – even when you’re not either tired or bored.
Our mirror neurons are so powerful as not only emotional and performance emulators that we can improve our batting swing, our dancing, our piano technique – all by simply observing someone else performing these skills with a high degree of excellence.
Just this morning at our Perspectives conference in Orlando, Shawn Achor gave a riveting (and pretty funny!) talk about positive psychology and the power of mirror neurons in our daily lives and interactions. At any given interaction in life we have the opportunity to choose to share joy, and little did we know the immense impact of that interaction. In a live, real time experiment, Shawn demonstrated that not only is happiness contagious – you knew that of course – but that we are nearly powerless to deny emotions presented before us. He asked us to pair up, then person #1 smiles at person #2 who attempts to remain expressionless. Impossible, or nearly so. Thus is the power of empathy and connection to one another.
Sort of ups the ante on showing up as a leader, doesn’t it? The old proverbs about model the way, or smile and the world smiles with you, take on new meaning because now we understand that whatever emotion or intention we are conveying, consciously or not, people are nearly powerless not to follow. Dear friends, use your new found powers for only good.