How to Deal With Grumpy Co-Workers

Don't get drawn into a colleague's personal drama.

Don't get drawn into a colleague's personal drama.

If you spend your day feeling like Snow White working among a room full of Grumpies, you're not alone. Real life issues often overlap with work life, and at one time or another, you're likely to encounter co-workers having bad days, struggling with personal or professional issues or just trying to manage a cranky disposition.

Let a person work out a bad day at her own pace and don't take a bad mood personally. An individual's grumpy outlook is likely a compilation of her own issues, and not a reflection of what she thinks about you or your work. Ignore the behavior unless anger or hostility is directed at you, or the problem is long-running.

Ask, “what’s wrong?” only once. Do not badger a grumpy person about her mood, as that won’t improve it; it will only make her irritated with you.

Offer space. Sometimes grumpy colleagues need space to work out their issues or bury themselves in their work without the interference of others. Respect other people’s space and privacy, especially if they're straightforward and tell you that's what they want.

Stop using cheer-up platitudes like, “Smile!” or, “Turn that frown upside down!” A grumpy person having a bad day -- or even a sensitive person who keeps to herself -- doesn't want to be cheer-led by the office Pollyanna. Don't try to cheer up someone who doesn't want cheering--it's fine to ask about the mood of close friends or colleagues who seem unusually troubled, but know where to draw the line.

Let grumpy people be alone. If you get one-word responses from moody co-workers in a meeting or hear sigh after sigh coming from a corner cubicle, just let it go. Do not advise people who refuse help or claim nothing is wrong; they are either fine, or they’re seeking attention. In either case, let them be.

Separate yourself from grumpy people, if you can, as they have the potential to bring down your mood and morale and reduce your productivity. Many companies have a business sad sack who shows up, does her job and goes home without fully engaging, interacting or contributing to team efforts. If the boss is okay with this employee’s attitude, you should be too.

Tip

  • Don’t let yourself be drawn into a grumpy person’s world or play therapist. This is a work time-killer, and it’s not your place to counsel your colleagues. An occasional pep talk is one thing, but anything more has the potential to hurt your career.

Warning

  • There's a difference between being in a bad mood and feeling grumpy, and behaving in a hostile or inappropriate manner. If your colleague’s disposition regularly crosses the line into disgruntled employee territory, it’s time to start documenting incidents and talking to your boss.
 

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