Bringing Everyone Down: How Bad Attitudes Destroy Teams

28 Oct

Have you ever walked into a room and felt your entire mood change? Like that great day you were having suddenly seemed a little less happy? If you haven’t experienced this phenomenon, let me give you an example. I recently went to work after having one of those “everything went my way” days, excited to share my happiness with a coworkers. But, the minute we started talking, I knew something was wrong. The mood was different. And while I couldn’t figure out what changed, I realized my entire attitude deflated, and I had no desire to share. I left feeling like I had not accomplished anything and had just wasted a workday. Why did this happen? It happened because the mood of my coworker unconsciously affected my own.

The Unavoidable Effect of Moods

According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal entitled, How a Few Bad Apples Ruin Everything, people in bad moods “distract and drag down everyone.” When I first read this article, I immediately thought to myself, “Someone in a bad mood can’t affect me that much. I control my own emotions. This must be an exaggeration.” But, the more I thought about it, the more situations I remembered in which I, in a great mood, suddenly felt less excited because of the people around me. As the article says, bad moods are contagious and have more of an effect on people than good ones. When working in a team, this nonverbal communication has a negative effect on everyone. Basically, one person can ruin everything.

The Effects on a Team

That sounds like a bit of a stretch, right? One person in a team of four or five should not be able to have that great of an impact. Unfortunately, a person can. An experiment[1] performed by Professor William Felps found that “having just one slacker or jerk in a group can bring down performance by 30% to 40%.” What’s worse, “teams whose leaders engaged in [negative] behavior…made less daily progress, did less creative work and were ultimately less successful than teams with persistently positive leaders.” Employees also remembered those negative actions more readily than any positive ones. What does this mean for teams then? Should we just get rid of every Debby Downer and Negative Ned? No. However, at the end of the day, in order for a team to work best, we need to make sure we notice our own emotions and realize the profound effects that they have on other people. If we can do that, we can create a much more efficient and positive environment for our team and ourselves.


[1] The hyperlink leads to the written report of How, When, and Why Bad Apples Spoil the Barrel by William Felps, an Organizational Behavior professor at Rotterdam School of Management.

by Rae Lerner

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One Response to “Bringing Everyone Down: How Bad Attitudes Destroy Teams”

  1. Jake Lazarus November 1, 2011 at 7:21 am #

    I feel like if this is the case, which i believe it is, then the opposite should also be true. People should work to ensure that they have a positive attitude and a bright, energetic mood when they are working in a group. While negative people can bring down a group, positive people who are full of energy can motivate others to the same extent.

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