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Walter Rakowich

Misery Loves Company, But Your Fears Really Are Better Solved With Friends

When your organization is under a great deal of stress, many employees have a tendency to dig in their heels and keep their heads down. If they withdraw and focus on the task at hand, they feel the stressful season might pass with less angst. This is exactly the moment when leaders have their greatest opportunity to influence people in a positive way. In fact, this is the most important role leaders serve.

Kevin Kruse, CEO of LEADx and author of Great Leaders Have No Rules, interviewed me about this topic for Forbes. I told him that stress is caused by uncertainty, and uncertainty is unsettling for everyone. This is a signal for leaders to act. There is a phenomenon called emotional similarity that diminishes the stress we experience. When two or more people feel stress and share their emotions with each other, these interactions translate into less anxiety.

USC Marshall School of Business professor Sarah Townsend led a study that explored this idea. The study revealed that “sharing a threatening situation with a person who is in a similar emotional state, in terms of her overall emotional profile, buffers individuals from experiencing the heightened levels of stress that typically accompany threat.”

The question becomes how do we help coworkers experience emotional similarity?

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