Self | Psychology

The Art of Enjoying People with a Positive Affective Presence

Disarm people’s insecurities and use emotional contagion to better someone’s day.

Sean Kernan
5 min readNov 4, 2023

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Pexels via Hasan Albari

Two elevator doors opened and I stepped inside, fighting off the urge to curl up on the ground and take a nap. It was another day as a freshman apology student, prone to sporadic partying and impulsivity, but occasionally turning in a decent paper in the nick of time.

I was bound for the 4th floor but on the second, the door opened and Professor Kaplan walked in. He was a portly man with a friendly face, wearing a grey coat, jeans, and glasses — the unofficial professor uniform in those days. I’d heard about him. He was one of the best professors in the country, a former Harvard lecturer our school lured in with a huge salary package.

As the door closed, I turned and said, “Greetings professor! I believe I am attending your lecture today.” Holding his stack of notebooks, he turned, smiled, and said, “My condolences.” And then he proceeded to give one of the best lectures I’ve ever attended. Which made his humility in that elevator so much more memorable and endearing.

Despite his esteemed career and gigawatt brain, he never came off as condescending, and made students feel welcome and open to ask questions. He won teacher of the year at the end of spring semester. Kaplan was like many you meet in life, who light up a room and are instantly well liked.

Researchers can measure components of your personality without examining you directly. They measure you by the impact you make on others, also called the emotional signature you leave. Those who make other people feel warm and welcome are referred to as having a “positive affective presence”, which is exactly what Dr. Kaplan had. But how do we achieve this? Is it inborn? Can it be developed?

“Don’t invite him please.”

One way to understand the positive affective presence, is to examine its antithesis. I saw an example in my 20s, when I threw raucous parties and was still highly social.

Before one party, a friend insisted that we didn’t invite this guy Gerard because he always became an angry…

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Sean Kernan

Former financial analyst turned writer. Always on the hunt for a good story. That guy from Quora. Writing out of Tampa, Florida.