We are, simply speaking, hard wired to connect.
Mirror neurons respond, perhaps surprisingly, based on the goal or perceived intention of the person performing the action - random actions by others don’t seem to cause them to fire. This means we unconsciously copy or imitate the emotional states of others with a sense of their intentions, this is what provides us with social cues as to how to respond. We have a felt sense of where someone’s at and therefore can respond accordingly. This unconscious or implicit imitation also occurs more strongly when we are with people we like or for people we perceive to be powerful. A leader will capture our attention so their emotions will be particularly contagious. However, its impact is also more subtle, for instance college student subjects who watched a video about old people were unaware that they walk more slowly to the exit at the end of a study. This implicit or unconscious imitation has profound implications for team dynamics. It is the basis for emotional contagions – how we inherit people’s moods in a team meeting or why a workplace has a particular mood tone. It’s also why stress can become such an infectious corrosive atmosphere or how an empathic nurturing environment can spread, both with their subsequent impact on team dynamics.