Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"Emotions Unfold"

emotional contagion

One midnight, I had just finished another shift at a job I didn’t like so I was alive with energy. I smiled, my eyes were open, I felt good about myself. I said my usual goodbyes to a friend and sprung into my car. My friend reversed his car just before I had the chance to leave my car park so he had beaten me this time – it was an unspoken game that took place each time we left from work. I waited for him to get out of the way before I reversed to make my way home.

As I was leaving, the open car park gave me an invitation to have a little fun with my car. If landscapes could talk, this one was whispering into my ear that I should spin the wheels. “Besides, it’s late at night. No one is around and you’re feeling great. It’s an open car park with no danger. Do it!” said the persuasive voice. Like a vulnerable teenager succumbing to peer pressure, I accepted the invitation.

The car became an extension of my body as it began to mimic my ecstatic mood. I put my foot down hard on the accelerator as I spun the wheel left around the first corner. As the rear tires lost their stability and the car went side-ways, I entered the next turn and spun the wheel right. The sound of screeching tires was like water fertilizing my increasing smile. Smoke filled the rims of my tires and a shot of adrenaline filled my body.

Following the consecutive drifts, I straightened the car and approached a set of traffic lights on the main road that would take me home. Had this been during the daytime, about seven cars would be in front of me before the upcoming traffic lights. I decided to keep complying with the road’s persuasive voice as it told me to “be a little adventurous” so I decided, or rather I let the road decide for me, that I should turn left instead of my usual right turn. Not exactly an Indiana Jones adventure, but it was different.

My friend who had left before me had just gone through the traffic lights a few seconds before me so the lights were still green. Keeping in the mood, I put my foot down on the accelerator to catch the green light. I would make it. I turned around the corner with a soft screech of the tires and there, 20 meters in front of me, on the side of the road were two police officers beside their vehicle.

They pulled me over. Opposite to what you might be thinking, I was not concerned. I was still in my elevated state. I wound down my window and an angry officer came charging at me, yelling, “What the hell are you thinking? What the hell is going through your mind?” I paused momentarily, unaffected by his aggressive state. I said smilingly, “I’m just happy, I guess”. Not a smart response.

It just hit me that I was out of it. I knew I should have said something else. I gulped. My mind rushed to think of some communication techniques I could use as a life boat to save me from drowning in the conversation. The moment was intense and all that came to mind were some techniques on getting out of a speeding-ticket. I thought to myself that I’ll give the techniques a shot. After all, I had annoyed the officer enough already.

As I was thinking how to approach this difficult situation, I was still happy of course. My happy mood seemed to pour fuel on his already raging fire. “Bloody hell mate! I could just give you a ticket right now!” My smile began to lower. I no longer made eye contact with the officer. The officer’s raging mood began to infect me and cause me to feel angry. It was as if my body had been overcome by an emotional virus the officer had given me.

I thought of the techniques to get out of a speeding-ticket and realized I was already beginning to use them. Well, it was too late to make the officer feel safe as he approached the car, but I needed to no longer act oblivious to my mistake. I needed to show respect as officers are in a clear position of authority and often experience disrespect throughout their day that only makes them more determined to convict guilty citizens. “You’re right.” I replied. “I was stupid and careless.”

The officer was still enraged and continued to threaten me with a ticket. I knew he could easily write me a ticket, but he wasn’t writing one possibly because officers hate the paperwork created from citizens breaking the law. I kept myself aligned with the officer’s reality by remaining in a “Yes I’m wrong, stupid, and shouldn’t have done that” mood. I continued to play psychological judo, and match my mood with his own, until two minutes later he said to drive off. And oh, I got no ticket!

I drove off – though feeling pleased I had beaten a reckless driving ticket – in an irritated state. The officer had destroyed my happy mood. It took two minutes of talking with the officer to completely transform my happy state into a joyless, gloomy mood. All it took was two minutes to convert my mood and there I was, in an unhappy state for the remaining two hours until I went to bed.

Everyday you are interacting with people at different mood levels. Sometimes you’re happier than people you are talking to, other times they are happier than you. Whatever the case maybe, emotions are being transferred to various people. This is a fascinating peculiarity with emotions. Have you ever noticed how we feel in our interactions is not just dependent on our internal state?

  • How did you feel when someone really annoyed began talking to you? You became more annoyed.
  • How did you feel when someone unhappy began talking to you? You began to be unhappy.
  • How did you feel when a charismatic person talked to you? You felt his energy and you began to feel happier.

No comments: