Infighting Is Contagious

The more we engage in or support nonrelational behaviors, which are the leading driver of infighting, the more these behaviors reproduce themselves. Study after study has shown that both behaviors and emotions are contagious.

Researchers who have studied nonrelational behaviors, which they refer to as “negative behaviors,” have said that these behaviors spread “like the common cold.”

Being exposed to just one incident, like receiving an insulting email, can cause people to reproduce such behaviors. (Think about someone venting their frustrations after a bad day at work by yelling at their partner—who may in turn vent their frustrations from being yelled at on another person.)

And people don’t easily recover from these kinds of toxic interactions. Studies show that for every hurtful interaction someone has, it takes at least five positive ones to offset the harm to their mood and the drain of their energy.

On top of this, people engaging in nonrelational behaviors don’t necessarily affect just one other person at a time. Consider the superspreading event of toxic communication that’s funneled through the digital megaphone that is social media. Studies have shown that people can “catch” emotions through social media posts, emails, and other digital modes of transmission.

The good news is that healthy, relational behaviors are also contagious.

We know that when it comes to physical pandemics, we need to cover our faces to help keep others and ourselves safe. This same approach applies to the pandemic of nonrelational behaviors. If we give a platform to superspreaders, we’re facilitating infighting.

The good news is that healthy, relational behaviors are also contagious. So building relational literacy—the understanding of and ability to practice healthy ways of relating—is a crucial step toward preventing and managing infighting.

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