For many years, when counseling my son on how he should treat his life’s experiences, I have told him that “Your attitude affects your altitude.” In other words, The attitude he brings to a project will affect how he does on the project and his success in life. If he had a bad attitude, I frequently explained, he would then do badly on the project. However, if he had a good attitude, no matter how hard the project was, he would do well. Recent research has expanded on this axiom of life by discovering that other people’s attitudes can affect your altitude. In other words, other people’s moods around you can alter your behavior and allow you to become more like that negative Ned/Nelly sitting next to you. Researchers Smith-Genthôs, Reich, Lakin, & Casa de Calvo found that when interviewees were interviewed by people with a negative tone, the interviewees performed worse than when the interviewers had a neutral attitude.
Evidence of both behavioral mimicry and expectancy-consistent performance was found. Importantly, interviewer tone had a significant indirect effect on applicant performance through its influence on applicant tone.
This research counters the concept that people who unconsciously “mimic” others surrounding them gain more favorable rapport opportunities. In a somewhat common sense conclusion, it suggests that when people around you are in a negative mood, you will become in a negative mood. This leads to a possible cycle of negativity. As a negotiator, that cycle of negativity can be a death blow to a successful negotiation. So what can you do to overcome that subconscious reaction? First, meditate or at least become mindful. Research has demonstrated that being mindful in the moment for five minutes before a negative interaction can help to prevent the negativity from becoming infectious. Second, as the feelings of negativity start to slowly overtake you, identify what the problem is by labeling it. Simply labeling a problem person, situation, or issue can help a person to cope with that situation. Third, if the negativity continues, press the pause button. By stopping the flow of the activity and negotiation, you can have time to let the adrenaline get out of your system. It also allows you to engage your rational decision making process rather than your emotional reaction process. Fourth, and not necessarily in order, smile. Studies have shown that just as negative emotions can be infectious, positive emotions can be infectious. Other studies have shown that if you smile at a person, they are very likely to smile back. The mere act of smiling, even if you don’t believe, it can actually help put you in a better mood. Finally, remember the tortoise and the hare. You don’t have to win the negotiation race right now. You can slow the pace down and still win.