You've heard the phrase "you are the people you surround yourself with." It's up there with live, laugh, love; keep calm and carry on; and whatever other sentences people are gluing above their bath in 2022.
You know it to be true. There are those people who bring out a certain side of us, making us wince at the night before or beam with pride of what we’ve achieved that week.
We're looking at you, Sue: five shots on a school night? Behave.
In psychological terms this is referred to as 'affective presence’ and it refers to the impact you have on others when they're around you. What's surprising though is that you don't have to be considered 'joyful' in order to have a positive effect. You can be a ‘glass-half-empty’ person and still leave a beneficial imprint on those around you once you've left.
According to Eisenkraft and Elfenbein, we all have an "emotional signature," or if you want a more verbose descriptor, a "trait effective presence."
This refers to the consistent feeling you elicit in others when you’re around them, and in turn the way they make us feel when they're around us. It sheds light on why some people can annoy the hell out of you very quickly. Consider their signature a negative one.
This is perhaps most vividly understood in the workplace or classroom. We all remember the teachers we had who we absolutely loathed, who impeded our educational progress with their manner. Or the great bosses who complemented our skillset and allowed us to flourish within the bounds of the role.
But too often we consider our feelings to be triggered by chance.
"John was on top form today," is something that might get muttered at the dinner table, yet the likelihood is that you just naturally gravitate to John's emotional signature. It’s important not to overlook that.
So, how do we edit our emotional signature? What can we do to tilt the scales towards leaving a positive feeling instead of a negative one?
Elfenstein says that one of the key ways is to take control of our inevitable 'blips'. You know the ones. An idyllic commute full of brilliant music, coffee, scenery, punctured immediately by an arsey email when you plonk down at your desk.
These 'blips' happen to everyone, all-the-time. But the way you deal with them, your emotional management and regulation, is the silver bullet when trying to polish your emotional signature. The benefits of maintaining a positive affect are endless: better relationships; greater likelihood of wellbeing; increased productivity. We could go on.
Further, those who actually try to improve their emotions have been shown to offer a more intense and positive affective presence. The act of noticing and tweaking your emotional management is a key precursor to changing it for the better [Berrios, Totterdell & Niven, 2015].
That's one half: us. But what about: THEM?
How to describe the sensational way that some people enhance the best parts of ourselves?
Turns out it’s called the 'Michelangelo Phenomenon'. [Stephen Drigotas, 1999].
It pays homage to the fact that Michelangelo famously thought that his sculpture process was merely revealing the hidden magnificent figures that existed hidden within the stone.
We all inherently have both beautiful and ugly inner traits. The people who surround us either dial these traits up or down.
The beauty of this notion is that the people who bring out the best in us are doing nothing more than revealing what’s already there.
If you find yourself uplifted and passionate whilst in the presence of X, take pride in the fact that the ambition is already within you, it just needs a little coaxing.
So there are two key takeaways here, backed up by the boffins in the crisp white coats:
The first is that we need to be cognisant of, and attempt to better, our unique emotional signature.
The second is that, when you find someone who reveals the best parts of yourself, do everything you can to keep them around.
When we're trying to make a change, we need to keep everything in mind to increase the likelihood of its success. The more knowledge we have at our disposal, the better our chances.