In general, pinpointing the sources of positive relational energy around you is less about identifying certain types of people (like, say, someone gregarious or outgoing) and more about figuring out how certain people make you feel. “Positive energy is not associated with particular dimensions of personality,” says Kim Cameron, PhD, the William Russell Kelly Professor of Management and Organizations at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and author of Positively Energizing Leadership. “Extroverts are no more or less likely than introverts to be positive energizers. That is, positive energy is associated with behaviors that anyone can develop.”
“Positive energizers are active and exuberant, responding to challenges with a desire for action.” —Rosabeth Moss Kanter, professor at Harvard Business School
As for what those behaviors are? Think of all things virtuous: Demonstrating compassion, gratitude, kindness, forgiveness, and integrity are all high on the list, according to Dr. Cameron. The combined effect of these actions is to “light up a room,” says Rosabeth Moss Kanter, the Ernest L. Arbuckle Professor of Business at Harvard Business School. “Positive energizers are active and exuberant, responding to challenges with a desire for action.” Pointedly, that does not mean dismissing those challenges or brushing over them, á la toxic positivity, says psychologist Emma Seppälä, PhD, author of The Happiness Track. “Positive energizers just don’t harp on issues, instead focusing on the positive and the route forward.”
By contrast, de-energizers operate like “black holes” in an organization of people—aka individuals who suck the energy out of an environment, says Dr. Cameron. Typically, these people are resistant to helping or supporting others and have a negative outlook, “which can slow the pace of change and growth and the generation of ideas,” says Patty de Vries, Chief Experience Officer at wellbeing consultancy Living Well USA.
But because energy is contagious, whether positive or negative, it can sometimes be tough to sense where it’s originating. Oftentimes, in a work context, people in leadership roles have an outsize impact on the energy dynamic, which is why “a leader's positive energy is the single most powerful predictor of organizational performance,” says Dr. Cameron. Regardless of your status in any team or group, though, your energy can play a motivating or demotivating role, depending on how it’s perceived relationally, and that can have a ripple effect for the group’s collective vibe.
How to tell whether you’re supporting or detracting from the energy of a group
The surest way to consider your energetic effect on a group is to ask others within it the question that researchers ask, says Dr. Seppälä: “When you interact with X person [in this case, you], how does it impact your energy level?” (Or, if you suspect folks won’t tell you the truth, have a trusted friend ask others how they typically respond to your energy and report back.) The more people who say they feel positive, inspired, or uplifted after an interaction with you, the more likely it is that you’re an energizer, and vice versa for a de-energizer.
Similarly, you can scan for peoples’ real-time reactions to your vibe. “If people respond to your energy by perking up and seeming more alert, smiling more, or complaining less, then you are likely an energizer,” says Kanter. “If you can make them feel empowered to do more than they thought they could, you are an energizer. And if you can inspire them to work toward a big dream, then you are an energizer-leader.” By contrast, the exact opposite happens in the presence of a de-energizer: People around you might shrink in their seats when you speak or ask something of them, or they might leave a meeting feeling defeated and drained, rather than excited about a project, says De Vries.
Though a positive energizer does not necessarily have to appear bubbly or charismatic, it’s typically the case that they'll be the “first to volunteer to help out or jump in with a solution to a problem that is getting people down,” says Kanter. “And in social settings, a positive energizer is someone who tends to raise everyone’s spirits.” So, if you can imagine a friend or coworker placing you into either of these buckets, it’s likely that you are, in fact, an energizing presence.
Why it’s important to be a source of positive relational energy
As a default, most people don’t set out to be seen as a negative person or a de-energizer—but it can happen “like a slow boil” in the absence of positive energy, says De Vries: “We don’t notice the many [unsupportive] habits that can infiltrate our personality over time, but we certainly have the ability to change course with simple strategies to reset our outlook and mindset.” And though other people in your surroundings can motivate that positive shift by way of sharing their own uplifting energy, it’s not necessary to wait for that to happen.
Plus, being an originating source of positive energy can have a whole host of benefits—not just for the people with whom you share that relational energy, but for you, too. “Positive energizers attract and mobilize other energizers,” says Dr. Cameron. In a workplace setting, that translates into helping the people around them to be more motivated and engaged, which can, again, lead to better workplace performance. But at the same time, research has also found that positive energizers are, themselves, higher performers.
Largely, that’s because, unlike physical energy or mental energy, positive relational energy doesn’t diminish with use; it expands. “When you’re a positive energizer, it will also boost your own energy,” says Dr. Seppälä. “It helps fill your cup and regenerate you when you ‘energize’ others.” That effect just makes it all the more likely that you'll continue to lift up people in your wake, which can, in turn, inspire others to do the same, forming an upward spiral of good vibes.
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