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August 9, 2023

Affective Presence: How to Stop Draining Your People and Energize Them Instead!

Bruna Martinuzzi

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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.

What Is Affective Presence?

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.

An illuminated cube lights up others around it.
Do you energize the people around you?

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.

4 Reasons Why Affective Presence Is Important

Eisenkraft's and Elfenbein's study, among other research, suggests that affective presence can have significant social consequences:

  1. People who elicit positive affect are more popular among their peers. Conversely, individuals who evoke negative emotions in their colleagues are more likely to be the targets of counterproductive workplace behaviors, such as rudeness and taunting.
  2. Research reveals that leaders who make other people feel good by their presence have teams that are better at sharing information, which leads to more innovation. Team leaders with a negative affective presence have the opposite effect on their teams' information sharing and innovation.
  3. Similarly, a different study also found that leaders with a positive affective presence encourage teams to communicate their creative ideas. Specifically, when a team leader had a higher positive affective presence, withholding of ideas was less likely in meetings where team members generated creative ideas.
  4. Finally, researchers found that leaders' positive affective presence boosts the motivation and performance of hospitality service employees, who often work long hours with low pay and tight schedules, which can result in burnout. Service employees must possess high energy and enthusiasm to present customers with a friendly and welcoming demeanor. In this environment, the study says, "leaders' positive affective presence sends an important signal that leaders care about their employees' wellbeing and acts as fuel to fire employees' energy toward work."

How to Strengthen Your Positive Affective Presence

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:

Develop Self-Awareness

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:

  • Understand your emotional triggers. What sets you off emotionally? Who are the people who get under your skin? These situations or people might cause you to have a negative affective presence.
  • Don't repress your emotions or deny the factors or people contributing to them. Instead, think about how you will manage your emotions before speaking to others.
  • Pay attention to your emotions as they occur. For example, do you ever notice yourself becoming combative, annoyed, angry, or competitive? Awareness will help you manage these reactions more effectively, so you don't act impulsively.
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Tune in to Others

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:

  • What might people need from you in the moment? Perhaps they need support or reassurance during a corporate transition. Or they may need a safe and non-judgmental environment to express their anxieties or dissatisfaction without concern for rebuke or rejection.
  • What impact do you want to make on others when you enter a room? Most people are quick to pick up emotional cues that might affect them. Don't leave this to chance by deciding how you want to show up.
  • What is the emotional footprint you are hoping to leave behind? Whatever feeling you want to instill in others, you need to feel it yourself. For example, you must project calmness yourself if you want people to feel that way.

Exercise Self-Discipline

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.

At all times, take the high road and treat people with respect. A survey of over 800,000 people in 158 countries shows that being treated with respect is the strongest predictor of positive feelings.

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.

Recommended Reading

Find out more about developing affective presence with our recommended resources:

Developing Self-Awareness
Emotional Intelligence
Mutual Respect
Creating an Energizing Work Environment
How to Make "High-Quality Connections"

Bruna Martinuzzi

About the Author:

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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