One of the growing realizations in the field of psychology in the last few years is that people have what’s called an affective presence as part of their personality. Simply speaking, your affective presence is how you make other people feel just by being around you. It can either be positive or negative.
An example of someone with positive affective presence is the person who everyone wants to be around and talk to. An individual with negative affective presence, on the other hand, is that person who just annoys you for no discernable reason or who simply brings down your energy level and mood.
The research establishing affective presence is small, as befits a new discovery, but it’s been proven by several studies, beginning with Hillary Anger Elfenbein’s research that uncovered the phenomenon.
Affective Presence for Sales Reps
Obviously for sales reps, you want to have a positive affective presence. The more you make other people feel good by just being around you, the more likely you are to quickly build relationships and close deals. You can also generate enthusiasm and energy about the process with comparative ease, which positively influences buyers and increases the probability of conversion.
But if you have a negative affective presence, then it becomes even more important to work with your buyers’ communication style, mirror appropriately, and minimize opportunities for conflict.
Affective Presence for Sales Managers and Leadership
Positive affective presence is also ideal for sales managers and other leaders. As Hector Madrid found in two separate research studies, positive affective presence for leaders creates an environment of higher innovation – their teams share information more often and direct reports are more likely to provide their own input, thoughts, and ideas.
How to Determine Your Affective Presence
The easiest way to figure out your affective presence is to watch how people react when you first walk into a room and they see you. Do they smile more brightly, become more talkative, seem glad to see you? That’s an instance of positive affective presence. Conversely, if conversations stop or smiles fade, and the greeting is polite but not warm, chances are they put you in the negative affective presence camp.
Keep in mind this is not necessarily an absolute. It's a general rule. In the case of close relationships, for example, many times a default negative affective presence is overridden by the positivity of the relationship, resulting in a net positive affective presence. Someone can have a positive affective presence to most people, yet will still create a negative affective presence in others.
The Burning Question: Can You Change Your Affective Presence?
Reading this naturally brings up the question: Is your affective presence fixed or can you change it – especially if you have a negative affective presence? The short answer: We don’t know.
The longer answer: While we know that affective presence exists, and that it’s a binary that splits into positive and negative, what researchers still don’t know is what precisely creates affective presence. Is it just an inborn trait? Is it controllable factors such as body language, vocal tone, or listening skills? Some combination? And do some people have stronger affective presence than others?
One hint that suggests it’s changeable is that both Madrid and Elfenbein, in their respective studies, posit that a major part of affective presence possibly lies in a person’s ability to regulate their emotions and those of others. As Gary W. Lewandowski, Jr. notes, we have the ability to transmit our moods to other people – what’s commonly described as a three-stage process called emotional contagion (more details can be found in the link).
As sales professionals – whether reps or leadership – it’s critical to also be aware of our possibility to both spread moods to other people and be affected by others’ moods ourselves. To counteract that, we need to develop our emotional regulation skills – such as identifying your own emotions and those of others, being able to tolerate awkwardness, self-control, and the ability to relax yourself and others in moments of stress.
The good news is that affective presence is linked to the vibe you give off, which in turn has its greatest impact in initial impressions. And even if you have a negative affective presence, you can overcome that by changing a buyer or direct report’s perception over time as they get to know you on a personal level (within the proper boundaries of a business/professional relationship, of course).
While there’s still much to determine about affective presence, it’s still something sales professionals need to keep tabs on. Most people lack the self-awareness to even know what their affective presence is, so it’s a potential area of individual advantage to find out what yours is. Doing so will provide another element to consider when developing your own personal sales strategy and individual interactions with clients for sales reps, and in how best to coach and motivate frontline reps as a sales manager and leader.