Managers Need To Understand The Power Of A Bad Mood

Sometimes bad moods are good things
Sometimes bad moods are good things Image Credit: Jorbasa Fotografie

As managers, we all have our good days and our bad day. I’m pretty sure that if we were in charge of things, we’d all like to have more good days than bad days. However, in the end we have to put up with a mix of both. However, studies are starting to show that our bad days may not be all that bad. Research shows that our judgment is surprisingly dependent on our mood. A result of this is that being in a bad mood may have a silver lining.

The Power Of Moods

I’m pretty sure that we’ve all noticed that our own judgments can depend on how we feel and we are certainly aware that the judgments of others vary with their moods, too. As an example of this, a judge might impose a severe sentence on a criminal defendant in part because the weather is miserable outside. Likewise a doctor might decide to send a patient home rather than to order a battery of tests, in part because it is late in the afternoon and he is tired. A manager might decide to go forward with a risky project, in part because he had a wonderful weekend with his family. The effect of moods on judgment has been the subject of a vast amount of research. It is easy to make people temporarily happy or sad and to measure the variability of their judgments and decisions after these moods have been induced. Researchers use a variety of ways to do this. People who are in a good mood have been found to be more approving of people, they are more generous and helpful, and their judgments are more upbeat.

It turns out that being in a good or bad mood can have a major effect on people’s judgments. Research confirms what you already know: as we all would suspect: people who are in a good mood are more approving of people, they are more generous and helpful, and their judgments are more upbeat. A negative mood produces the opposite effects. The same smile that is seen as friendly by a person in a good mood can be judged as awkward when the observer is in a negative mood. In other words, mood has a real measurable influence on what you think: what you notice in your environment, what you retrieve from your memory, how you make sense of these signals.

Managers need to realize that mood has another, more surprising effect. It can also change how you think. And here the effects are not those that you might imagine. Being in a good mood can be a mixed blessing, and bad moods come with a silver lining. The costs and benefits of different moods for us are situation-specific. When a manager is negotiating something a good mood can help. Managers in a good mood are more cooperative and elicit reciprocation. They tend to end up with better results than do unhappy managers who are negotiating. Of course, successful negotiations make managers happy, too, but in these experiments, the mood isn’t caused by what is going on in the negotiation; it is induced before managers negotiate. Also, managers who shift from a good mood to an angry one during the negotiation often achieve good results – something to remember when you’re facing a stubborn counterpart.

The Power Of A Bad Mood

Mangers need to realize that a good mood makes us more likely to accept our first impressions as true without challenging them. People who are in a good mood are more likely to let their biases affect their thinking. Other studies that have been performed tested the effect of mood on gullibility. Some people are more receptive than others to nonsensical talk. They may be impressed by “seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually vacuous.” But again, this gullibility is not merely a function of permanent, unchanging dispositions. When we include good moods it makes people more receptive to nonsensical talk and more gullible in general; they are less apt to detect deception or identify misleading information. Alternatively, eyewitnesses who are exposed to misleading information are better able to disregard it and to avoid false testimony when they are in a bad mood.

It turns out that even our moral judgments are strongly influenced by mood. In a study, subjects must decide whether to push a large man off the footbridge and onto the tracks so that his body will stop a runaway trolley. If they do so, they are told, the large man will die, but the five people will be saved. When subjects were put into a positive mood by watching a five-minute video segment, they became three times more likely to say that they would push the man off the bridge. The footbridge problem illustrates the conflict between approaches to a person’s moral reasoning. Utilitarian calculation which is associated with English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, suggests that the loss of one life is preferable to the loss of five. Deontological ethics which is associated with Immanuel Kant, prohibits killing someone even in the service of saving several others.

However, during the study when the subjects were placed in a positive mood by watching a five-minute video segment, they became three times more likely to say that they would push the man off the bridge. These findings suggest that the moment-to-moment variability of mood affects the quality of a person’s judgments in ways that we cannot possibly hope to control. This variability or “noise” should give a pause to any manager who thinks we can make purely objective judgments. We need to understand that if our mind is a measuring instrument, it is a noisy one.

What All Of This Means For You

When a manager comes in to work, our focus is on what we want to accomplish that day. We may be thinking about our team and what they are currently working on and what still needs to be done. What we may not realize is that our mood can play a big role in how our day is going to turn out. Where things can get even more interesting that a bad mood may turn out to be more valuable than a good mood.

Our own judgments can depend on how we feel. People in good moods are more approving of people. A negative mood can produce an opposite effect. Moods can change how we think. If we are in a good mood, we may accept our first impressions. Our moral judgements may also be affected by our mood.

Managers need to understand that how they behave and how they make decisions may be affected by their mood. What this means is that we have to take the time to pause, determine what kind of mood we are in, and then carefully make a balanced decision. Using this kind of new insights into our decision making process can help us to make better decisions.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that you should work to change your mood before your make a decision?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As a manager, one of your most important manager skills is meeting with the members of your team. These meetings take place for a wide number of different reasons. We may be handing out new assignments, we may want an update on an ongoing project, or we may be having problems with a team member’s work performance. A one-on-one meeting between a manager and a team member can be one of the most valuable interactions an employee can have. However, if we’re not careful, these meetings can degrade into boring, check-the-box, non-productive encounters.