Behavior is Contagious: Staying Calm in the Workplace


Republican presidential candidates are learning the hard way about the value of keeping your cool.

Over the past two weeks, presidential hopeful and billionaire Donald Trump has wreaked havoc on the Republican opponents with a series of vitriolic and deeply personal attacks.

He disparaged former Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, suggesting he was not a war hero because he was only captured and held hostage in Vietnam for many years. Those comments sparked outrage not only in Republic ranks, but also in the general public and among special interest groups like military veterans.

Here’s the thing: many pundits believe Trump has actually been encouraged to be more inflammatory in his remarks because the people he first insulted took the bait and responded in kind.

The attack on McCain’s war record came after he criticized Trump for suggesting all Mexican immigrants were criminals. Concerned about the damage comments like that could do to the GOP’s chances of re-taking the White House, McCain said Trump had only “fired up the crazies” with his comments about Mexican immigrants.

The same observation was made after Trump lashed out at Sen. Lindsey Graham, another Republican presidential hopeful.

Graham called Trump a “jackass” in television interviews. Later that same day, Trump delivered a speech where he called Graham “a lightweight” and then held up a piece of paper with Graham’s cell phone number on it, inviting people to call the number. Thousands of people did, forcing Graham to announce on Twitter he was getting a new mobile.

Are McCain and Graham at fault here? Many observers believe Trump, infamous for his unguarded comments, would have lashed out at his opponents even if they did not respond. However, there is no doubt responding fanned the fires of Trump’s hyperbole.

In the Republican presidential race, we find a graphic and valuable lesson in the politics of workplace anger.

The lesson is not new; most of us can remember being told at some point in our lives you should never lose your cool with an angry person, because it will only make things worse. This is a life lesson that remains applicable to all aspects of our lives, including our working lives.

Good and bad behavior is contagious. If you are frantic, chaotic and perpetually negative, people around you will react to the energy you’re giving off. Eventually, someone is going to take the bait and respond in kind. That’s when full-blown skirmishes arise.

As individuals, we can all make decisions to avoid or defuse skirmishes that come from being around people who have lost their calm. Take a time out, or go for a walk, and remove yourself from the situation causing all the anxiety. If you’re with a colleague who has lost his or her temper, help them by asking them to take a time out.

Ultimately, this is a chance for everyone to step into a leadership role by either remaining calm or helping colleagues to do the same.

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