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Managing Up: What to do When Your Boss is in a Bad Mood

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Do you know how to manage up? You arrive at work. Everything’s quiet…too quiet. You notice your colleagues hunched at their desks, furiously typing away, terrified looks in their eyes. You wonder what’s going on. And then you see it. Down the hallway. Oh no, oh no. There it is….

Your boss is in a bad mood.

Have you experienced this situation? When we walk into work and there’s office tension, it’s hard not to notice it and worse, be affected by it. If the boss is in a bad mood, you know it’s going to be a long day.

But before you give up or give in to the moodiness, there’s a few ways you can change your boss’s mood, lift his or her spirits and reset the tone of the entire office.

Watch this video or read below to find out how:

Bad Mood Science

The emotional state of your boss actually has a lot to do with your own productivity and the entire well-being of the office.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman specializes in emotional intelligence. He observed hundreds of business leaders and their work environments and found that:

Emotional intelligence is carried through an organization like electricity through wires. To be more specific, the leaders mood is quite literally contagious, spreading quickly and inexorably throughout the business.

Daniel Goleman

When your boss is in a bad mood, his or her mood is more likely to bring down the mood of the office resulting in crabby colleagues, a decline in productivity and a decrease in team morale.

On the flip side, a positive mood can lead to a more efficient and happy workplace environment. According to Alice Isen fro Cornell University:

A positive, upbeat work space fosters mental efficiency, comprehension and flexible thinking.

By helping your boss with his or her bad mood, you are doing a service for your entire team, office and workplace.

Managing Up

Managing up is a concept that encourages employees to develop and build the best possible relationship they can with their boss. Here’s how it works in action:

Step #1: Immunize Yourself

Make sure your boss’s bad mood, funk or slump stops with you. Don’t catch the infection! Take a moment to settle back into your mindset and how you came to the office today. This neutrality is key and actually allows you to help fix the problem rather than being a part of it. Note:

  • Know how you came in
  • Picture how you want to leave

Step #2: Think Positive, Think Short

Researchers Martin Seligman and Peter Schulman studied a group of 197 life insurance agents. They found that when agents maintained a ‘glass half full’ mentality they closed more sales and were more resilient when faced with rejection. They found that a pessimistic explanatory style often led to poor productivity and quitting when bad events were experienced.

What does this mean your boss? If your boss is in a bad mood, the office often fears the worst, and this fear tends to be fulfilled—meetings go bad, goals seem further away, team members start to question their worth and value.

You have to be the voice of reason. I’ve got 2 ninja tips for you here:

1. Hope

Stay hopeful. You know everything will be fine and this one mood is a blip on the radar, no biggie.

2. Quick

Remember, your boss’s state is temporary. This mood won’t last forever and if you treat it as such, it is much more likely to be a temporary state and not fester for longer than it has to. Calm the waves with comments like “No worries on that project, I’ll circle-back later today or tomorrow and we can discuss.” or “It doesn’t seem like a great time. How about we grab lunch later this week and discuss the points?”

The hope + quick mindset shows that your attitude is positive and non-catastrophic.

Step #3 Future-Oriented

It can be hard to cheer someone up, especially in a professional setting. If you can get your boss to focus on the future, it’s likely to get them out of their present bad mood. You can shift to future by:

  • Talking about progress
  • Talking about goals
  • Talking about highlights

This can be a small hopeful statement or a quick idea for a meeting coming up next week. Anything too extreme may overwhelm or fuel the bad mood, so keep it light, casual and easy.

Bonus: Humor

If you can add a little humor to the workplace during a bad mood storm, try it! This can be a joke or sharing a funny YouTube video or even as simple as a smile and nod. Remember, our bosses are humans too—they want to be acknowledged, appreciated, respected and understood.

In one of my first jobs in College, I worked in a travel office. My boss was prone to some serious bad moods. When she would come to the office in a bad mood, literally nothing would go right. I had a running joke during these moods where I would shout “Puppy time!!” Everyone would stop what they were doing, we’d gather around someone’s computer and watch 5 minutes of puppy videos. Sometimes my boss would join, sometimes she didn’t. Either way, this small activity worked as a quick way to shift the office mood.

Did you catch it?

Uh oh. You caught the bad mood. Or maybe, you’re the boss in the bad mood. No worries! Check out our article on How to Snap Out of a Funk with 5 ways to go from funky to fresh.

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