Meditations on Mood
April 18, 2017 by Bill Rosenthal

If you woke up in a good mood today, your performance on the job is likely to be better than it would have been if you hadn’t. You probably already knew that, but recent research shows that a good mood broadens the focus of your attention and increases your creativity. A good mood makes you a more imaginative problem solver. It probably also makes you more compassionate, which makes you a better communicator. It certainly makes others more eager to work with you.

Mood is an emotional state, but it’s more tenuous than other emotions. It’s not as intense as a feeling, and it’s not as permanent as character. It is more subject to our own control than either feelings or character. But, as tenuous as mood is, it pervades our lives in ways we don’t often think about. It has always fascinated me that English has moods, too.

With a mood, you can express your attitude toward something at the same time you are conveying your thoughts. Different languages have different mood palettes. In English, we have four moods: indicative, imperative, emphatic, and subjunctive. The indicative mood states facts or asks questions, the imperative mood gives commands, and the emphatic mood provides emphasis to a particular aspect of what you are saying. 

The subjunctive mood allows you to talk about what is not necessarily real. So you use it to express imaginary or hypothetical sentiments, as in, “If I were a rich man…” Because it is more exploratory or tentative than the other moods, it is also the one you use when you want to be polite. For example, “Close the door” is the imperative mood. “Would you close the door?” is the subjunctive.

Here’s what I find worrying. Some observers believe the subjunctive is vanishing. Nobody on Twitter says, “Far be it from me to criticize.” They usually just go ahead and criticize. This may be because the subjunctive is so much wordier than the indicative, and Twitter abhors wordiness. But the result can be the statement of an opinion as if it were fact, as in this famous tweet: “Wiz Khalifa looks like a homeless woman.” That is clearly someone using the indicative mood for an expression of opinion. In the subjunctive, it would have to be expressed with something like, “I suggest Wiz Khalifa look less like a homeless woman.” Because the subjunctive is meant to express emotion, it requires the speaker to own the emotion. 

I don’t think that the subjunctive alone can save us from incivility, but it might help, and at a time when 75% of Americans say incivility has risen to crisis levels. The modern world’s emphasis on self-expression often means that much of what passes for communication is simply someone stating their own opinion. True communication occurs when people work together to achieve clarity, whether their goal is to exchange information, generate ideas, or resolve a problem. 

That’s why we teach a six-step process for Mastering Interpersonal Communication™. You won’t learn anything about the subjunctive in it, but you will learn to listen respectfully, to speak with clarity, and to cooperate in the communication process — and perhaps help to reverse the incivility crisis.