Cloudy and a Chance of Grumpy: Dealing with Bad Moods

Most of us have dealt with a bad mood of our own as well as the experience of being on the receiving end of someones bad mood.  Bill Watterson the creator of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip sums it up well: Nothing helps a bad mood like spreading it around.  Positive and negative moods are part of workplace as much as life.  How many times have you commiserated with a co-worker that someone is “just in a bad mood?”  A creative as well as funny door hanger I saw in a client’s office was the boss bad mood meter.  Support staff could enlighten unsuspecting visitors to the mood of the boss by three color coded levels:

  • Yellow meant that the boss was granting on wish today and it is not yours.
  • Orange indicated that the boss is consuming small employees and it would be best to come back another day.
  • Red guaranteed that you would not return if you entered and you should make preparations for the future of your family.

Although the office administrator created the door hanger out of good humor, it captures a regular and serious concern of most employees: how do moods impact my ability to complete my work?

One of the prevailing theories of bad moods relates to an idea known as ego depletion (  Ego depletion assumes that self-control is a limited resource and as we deplete it we have less ability to keep our personality positive.  As Baumeister and his colleagues indicate, “choice, active response, self-regulation, and other volition may all draw on a common inner resource.”  Consequently, if we focus our mental abilities on one area of self-control, we have fewer resources left to actually ensure that we keep negative emotions in check. In other words, our capacity for exerting willpower is finite and while we might use it in one area, we possess less for other areas.

Based on this interpretation, more stressful times lead to more negative moods.  As we work harder, have more choices to make over scarce resources, and accept less than optimal alternatives, we are exhausting our positive account.  If things keep coming at us and we have no method of replenishing, we end up sharing our bad moods more often.

What is the best way of dealing with a bad mood or the feeling of just being tapped out? Research has shown that there are three ways to positively improve someone’s mood:

  • Consider positives
  • Stop blame
  • Forgive

Consider Positives

At one point or another, your mother probably gave you advice to count your blessings or think about all the things that are going well as an elixir to a bad mood.  As a child, this wisdom automatically initiated a cycle of she does not understand how unhappy I am, she has never experienced what I am going through, and I will have to pout for a while until I feel better.  There is a lot of truth to our mother’s wisdom.  Research has shown that taking even a simple inventory of things that are positive replenishes our ability to deal with those things that are more negative.  Most of us gravitate to the negative and inflate its importance.  A slight change in perspective can make a difference.

Stop Blaming

Most of us seek to blame someone or something else when we are in a bad mood.  We like the idea that the current feelings arose from outside of ourselves and we are victims of circumstances beyond our control.  Blaming in workplace rarely solves anything.  It is important to determine what is bothering you, but you should look within yourself first for how to solve it. A considerable amount of negativism in the workplace relates to a feeling of powerlessness or a lack of engagement.   In these cases, going to your supervisor with a few ideas that help you and the organization, can lead to better outcomes.


As I work with groups in a variety of organizations, I hear on a regular basis about someone has “wronged” someone else.  There is a near endless list of large and small actions that have deprived someone of their just credit, respect, assignment, raise, or promotion.  In order to be productive and work well together, we have to let things go.  This is not to say we should not stand up for ourselves or seek justice when it is warranted, but carrying grudges is as unhealthy to the individual as it is to your organization.

We all talk about recharging or refueling our tank when we have made it through a rough week.  The recharging process is a critical part of protecting against our internal moods reducing our as well as others productivity.

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