I used to care a lot about how others felt about me. Did they look up to me? Did they feel good about me as their leader? But, one day, I understood that how others felt about me was irrelevant. What mattered most was how people felt about themselves in my presence. When they interacted with me, did they feel better or worse?
How we make others feel when they are in our presence is a valuable leadership trait. In psychology, this trait has been called "affective presence." Leaders with a positive affective presence show they care and are skilled at connecting with those around them. Care and connection are the bedrock of success in a leadership role. This article explores the concept of affective presence, its significance, and strategies for developing a positive affective presence to bolster your leadership influence.
The term "affective presence" was first used by psychologists Noah Eisenkraft and Hillary Anger Elfenbein in a 2010 study. According to their findings, some individuals exert a palpable emotional influence that can either make others feel at ease, or uneasy.
As they explain, affective presence refers to how we make other people feel just by being around them, regardless of our own emotions or intentions. It's an overall, lasting effect we leave on others.
There's both a negative and a positive affective presence. For example, one person may inspire excitement in the people around them. In contrast, another tends to cause their peers to feel anxious. In other words, one typically energizes people while the other stresses them out.
Affective presence is attributed to an individual's ability to manage and communicate emotions effectively. When investigating what distinguishes people who elicit a more positive or negative affect than others, researchers point to differences in expressive styles, such as aggressive and competitive versus kind and warm.
Eisenkraft's and Elfenbein's study, among other research, suggests that affective presence can have significant social consequences:
A positive or negative affective presence means you impact those in your presence. Cultivating a positive affective presence requires a deliberate and conscious decision to interact with others in a positive manner – it's a choice we must make daily until it becomes part of who we are and how we present ourselves.
Here are several strategies for creating a positive affective presence:
You cannot fix what you don't understand. Self-awareness is the first step toward effective self-management. People who know themselves can better manage their emotions and positively interact with others.
You can increase your self-awareness in many ways. To name a few:
Recognizing your feelings is an essential step toward developing self-awareness, but so is understanding how your responses to those feelings affect the people around you. Try redirecting your focus away from you and toward other people to better manage your emotions, moods and behaviors.
For example, before an important meeting, ask yourself:
How do you feel about the people you're interacting with? People have a knack for sensing your thoughts about them and will respond accordingly.
To shift to a positive frame of mind about the people you're meeting, consider the qualities you may value in them and any acts of kindness or goodwill you've experienced with them. This reflection might change your perspective and help soften your stance.
You may experience instances of irritation, frustration or impatience throughout the day. The question is, says Elfenbein in an interview with Julie Beck, "Can you regulate yourself so those blips don't infect other people? Can you smooth over the noise in your life so other people aren't affected?"
In short, are you good company? For example, imagine a coworker who consistently remains calm and composed during stressful situations at work. They can manage their emotions, defuse tension, and create a positive environment for their coworkers. As a result, their presence becomes highly sought after and they are seen as someone who brings comfort and ease to those around them.
Consider that you will likely work with your colleagues for a long time, so take the long view. You can better control your emotions by keeping a long-term relationship in mind.
And no matter how you feel about your peers, think about how your words and actions might impact other people's lives.
Find out more about developing affective presence with our recommended resources:
Regular guest author Bruna Martinuzzi is an educator, author and speaker specializing in emotional intelligence, leadership, communication, and presentation-skills training.
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