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Think of two people you regularly interact with at work. Now take a moment to think about the kinds of emotions you typically experience when you are interacting with them. Using the three categories: positive, neutral (neither positive nor negative) and negative, pick which category best represents the kinds of emotions you experience when interacting with each of these two people.

Positive emotions fuel us, while negative emotions drain us. There’s a relationship between the kinds of emotions we experience and our mental health. Most researchers would agree that the more we experience positive emotions, the more likely we will have positive mental health.

One factor that can influence whether we experience positive emotions is the people we choose to spend time with.

This micro skill explores the relationship between the people we spend time with and our emotions.

Awareness

Our emotions can be facilitated by our interactions with others. Health author Stacey Colino suggests that emotions can be transmitted from one person to another more easily than the flu. She adds that positive emotions like joy, or negative emotions like sadness, are easily passed from one person to another, often outside the person’s level of awareness. This suggests that if we’re not aware of this we may be experiencing emotions that we’ve gotten from another person but would rather not have.

Research suggests that emotions can be contagious. The longer you’re around a peer who’s feeling good or bad, for example, the more likely their emotions can rub off and have a direct impact on you.

Mental fitness is the action of paying attention to what we do to promote mental health, just like exercise promotes physical health. One conscious choice we can make is to be aware of the kind of emotions we experience when we spend time with different people in our social network. The more we notice how these interactions influence our emotions – positively or negatively – the better positioned we are to decide where to spend our time.

Accountability

One study found that happy people tend to be associated with a social network of other happy people, and each happy person they add to their social network increases their probability of being happy by nine per cent.

We ultimately have choice over the amount of time we spend with people in our social network. The more we consciously decide to spend time with people that give us more positive emotions than negative, the more likely our social network can have a positive influence on our mental health.

Action

Many of us intuitively know that spending time with positive people is better than with negative folks. However, sometimes we can get caught in a rut or routine where we’re more focused on what we’re doing than the outcome. Taking stock of our social network’s emotional impact can help us reflect and decide if what we’re doing makes sense:

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1. Complete an emotional audit for your social networks. Think about the people that fall within your social network – those you regularly spend time with. This can include close peers at work, friends and family members. Once you have a list of all the people that fall within your social network, evaluate your emotional experience with each of them. To do this, record how you felt about three separate interactions with each person and whether the most dominant emotions you experienced were positive, negative or neutral. Test each score to determine if you believe the score is correct, just a point in time, or a fair representation of the kind of emotions you mostly experience in the person’s presence.

2. Explore your emotional audit results.

Negative people – These are people you find opinionated, judgmental, irritable, rude, fake, dominating and you do not trust. When you have a person you determine that you experience negative emotions (such as regret, frustration) most of the time you’re around them, ask why this is the case. Is it because of their actions, yours or some combination of the two? Decide if you really want to or need to spend time with them, and if the answer is yes, be clear on why. If you know you’ll be spending time with them, the next step is to find a way to improve your emotional experience. Keep in mind that because you don’t immediately see a solution doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

Neutral people – These are people you can take or leave – the fact is you do not see much value being around them nor do you find them detrimental. These are people that don’t give us many vibes in either direction. However, seldom do people in our social network stay defined as neutral for too long, so we need to keep watch on these relationships to see how they progress and whether they turn positive or negative.

Positive people – These are people that you find joyful, pleasurable to be around, interesting, fun, with whom you have common interests and you trust. For positive people, compare the time you’re spending with them to your negative friends. Then examine the impact who you are spending time with has on you and your mental health. Paying attention to your emotional experience with others can influence where you choose to spend your time.

Bill Howatt is the chief of research for work force productivity at the Conference Board of Canada, and a co-creator of the Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

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You can find other stories like these at tgam.ca/workplaceaward.

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