Ever come across a new word and then seem to notice it everywhere over the next few days? Psychologists refer to this occurrence as the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.

The term comes from a letter written to the St. Paul Pioneer Press in 1994, describing how, after mentioning the name of the German terrorist group Baader-Meinhof in a conversation with a friend (many years after the group had been in the news), the writer continued noticing it. His letter led to other readers sharing similar encounters.

I recently experienced the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon with the word mercurial.

I heard a news commentator describe a popular public figure as being “mercurial.” Since then, I’ve encountered this word at least a dozen times. Odd, right?

The word mercurial comes from the Latin adjective mercurialis, meaning “of or relating to the Roman god Mercury (the god of travel and commerce).”

Like his Greek counterpart Hermes, Mercury, aided by winged sandals, was known for his ability to travel quickly between the mortals’ world and that of the divine.

In the context I encountered, mercurial was used to describe the public figure’s rapid and unpredictable changes in mood and mind—an undesirable teammate quality for sure.

Moodiness can be highly disruptive to teams because it halts momentum and undermines trust. You never know what to expect from a habitually moody teammate, except to expect the unpredictable.

One moment they’re hot tempered; the next, they’re distantly frigid.

Teams with mercurial teammates, team members prone to unpredictable mood swings and erratic emotional outbursts, are destined to fail because emotional contagion causes their moodiness to be transferred to other team members.

In rapid time, this emotional seesaw produces a toxic, unpredictable team environment, wrought with unnecessary anxiety. The toxicity forces teammates to withdraw from relationships and revert to self-preservation for their own wellbeing.

The element mercury was named after Mercury the god because of its fast molecular motion and mobility. It can be found in numerous household products, including thermometers, kitchen appliances, and light bulbs.

Breathing in mercury vapors is known to be dangerous today. But in previous times, mercury was thought to prolong life, heal wounds, and be generally good for one’s health.

Ever wonder how Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter got his name? Nineteenth-century hat makers used mercury to make the wool in hats feel softer. They didn’t realize how poisonous mercury was. The exposure made them act strange and erratic, which gave rise to the expression “mad as a hatter” being used to describe someone who’s crazy.

When you’re part of a team, being exposed to mercurial teammates can lead to similar unpleasantness. Their erratic behaviors can drive you mad—if you allow it.

Good teammates are masters of their emotions. They’re aware of emotional contagion and insist on keeping their moods in check.

They don’t allow their emotions to negatively impact other team members. And they don’t allow other team members’ negative emotions to impact them. They are emotionally congruous.

(*Let me know if the word congruous causes you to experience the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. 🙂)

As always…Good teammates care. Good teammates share. Good teammates listen. Go be a good teammate.

Lance Loya is the founder and CEO of the Good Teammate Factory and the creator National Be a Good Teammate Day. He is a former sports coach turned bestselling author, blogger, and professional speaker, who inspires TEAMBUSTERS to become TEAMMATES. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or through his weekly Teammate Tuesday blog.

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