Have you ever noticed that there are people you meet who energise you while others drain you? Why does this happen and … is there anything you can do about it?
I once worked with a young energetic guy. Not only was that energy a physical thing – he played lots of sport, coached teams and so on – but he was energetic in his interactions. That showed up as enthusiasm for the work at hand, willingness to contribute to solving problems and a positive attitude to even the humdrum of the job. It was palpable. I worked with him ten years ago. Yet, every time I see him he is pleased to see me and still greets me with an enthusiastic embrace. It always makes me feel good. Why? Because his relational energy is affective and effective!
What is relational energy?
Relational energy is energy we “catch” when we interact with people (Baker, 2016, p.2). Its effects include employee engagement and work performance as well as impacting your emotional state (the affect). In short, it is infectious.
Relational energy as the name suggests, occurs in the relating that happens between people. This can have both a positive and a negative outcome – that is positive, upbeat and energising vibes as well as negative, enervating and morale-killing vibes. We have all encountered both. I know I have. But the interesting thing, is that you can do things to promote the positive outcome of this, and mitigate negativity.
What do energy inducers do?
What behaviours lead to people feeling buoyed up, enthusiastic, and willing to tackle the problems with an optimistic outlook? In his research, Wayne Baker suggests some of these things:
- displays of real enthusiasm (love) for a job
- positive attitudes – reflecting a happy disposition, smiling a lot
- people who devote their full attention and listen carefully to others – creating meaningful connection
As the relational aspect suggests, the interaction of people, expectations and sharing of experience is contagious. The desirable aspects may be mimicked, shadowed and practised, so that the effects will be shared.
The effects and affects
The consequences of interacting with people who energise others is in “effect” and “affect”. In terms of effect, this includes the flow-on behaviours and outcomes of the energy elevation. Affect includes the impact on emotional states, moods and morale. These include:
- feeling invigorated and having more vitality
- having more energy and stamina to do things
- being inclined to go to these people when there is a need to be “pepped up”
In a work context when the energising person is a leader, this can result in
- increased motivation at work
- more attention to tasks and
- greater focus in work activities.
In other words, higher work performance from higher engagement and productivity.
What is the source of relational energy?
The short answer? You are. Each and every one of you. Each person is a source and a recipient of relational energy.
When you generate relational energy in the workplace, your performance goes up … The more people you energise, the higher your work performance. This occurs because people want to be around you. You attract talent, and people are more likely to devote their discretionary time to your projects. They’ll offer new ideas, information, and opportunities to you first.
~ Baker (2016, p.4)
However, the opposite is also true. You can also de-energise people. So the reverse can happen – a lack of willingness to work on things with you, or perhaps working against you on things.
Create your own relational energy map
You can map your relational energy by creating a “map” of relevant relationships to you. Sometimes when you step back from relationships and look at them in a different way, they reveal something new.
Map out the people you relate to. For each person you interact with ask yourself, “How do they affect my energy?” Rate your responses eg from “very energising” to “neutral” to “very de-energising”. Are there any patterns there? Do you see something new? Does it tell you something about those interactions?
A leader’s mindset
A leader who focuses on the team and not themselves, and interacts with their team in a positive/constructive way is likely to have higher performing teams than the opposite of these arrangements. The “other-focus” mindset is important.
Research conducted some years ago, by Marcial Losada and his associates, indicated that a leader’s energy impacts team performance by
- positive interactions
- the extent to which the interactions are focused on team-members and not on the leader themselves, and
- the nature of the interactions as inquiry or advocacy.
With the principle of reciprocity, positive interactions engender positive responses and so a virtuous cycle can be established. Combine this with the infectious nature of positive energy-givers, and the affective and effective consequences flow. It should be noted, that there is some doubt about the levels of the ratios revealed in the work of Losada, but the principle is still a valid one.
What if you work with negative relational energy people?
The Losada research indicates it takes more energy to “lift” the level of positive outcomes with a negative co-worker. Situations with more than one person oriented this way, makes for an exhausting job for a leader. It means you will need to manage your energy output! Some strategies might be:
- limit your interactions with negative people (where possible) or intersperse them with breaks eg set up time to work together before a lunch break or a change of activity
- ensure you interact with people who energise you
- recognise the difficulties associated with managing negative people and do things that “re-energise” you
- create your own relational energy “map” and determine where to focus your efforts
Relational energy for leaders
For those leading work groups Baker (2016, p. 4-5) suggests:
- build high-quality connections – find other like-minded people, and find ways of working with them
- create energising events – build in activities with enthusiastic team members interacting with others eg demonstrations, Q&A sessions that enable them to share their love of their work
- promote a “giver” culture – encouraging people to help others, and express their gratitude for it, helps to encourage positive relational energy exchanges
You can manage your own energy crisis – with consideration for the ways you relate to others. Whether that be at work, at home or in other community settings, hopefully this post is something to think about in these settings.
Baker, Wayne. 2016. The more you energise your co-workers, the better everyone performs. Harvard Business Review. 15 September 2016.