5 July 2009

Psst! I'm in a bad mood, pass it on...

I was at the cottage with a friend and she was cranky and started to get wound up about something to do with her husband. The longer she couldn't get in touch with him, the angrier she became. When she finally did reach him she started off really nice. "Hi, how are you?," she said sweetly. Then you could see it progressing downward from there. She had an agenda and was going to let him have it. By the end of the call her husband had caught her crankiness and it ended up with them both being angry.

What happened?
Crankiness and bad moods can be passed on. I am sure after that call her husband got off the phone and kicked the dog or was cranky with a sales clerk at the grocery store. I have been at the office in a perfectly good mood going about my business and getting a lot done. Someone comes in my office and starts in on me about something or other. At first I am taken aback, wondering what the heck happened, and then I get angry and because I couldn't get it off my chest with this person, the next person I meet will probably feel my crankiness and then they will wonder what happened and pass the bad mood on to the next person.

This happens with e-mail as well. The worst time to write an email is when you are angry. My boss calls these types of e-mails "crankograms." I am sure you know what I mean and have received them yourself and felt the sting of it. I wrote about it in an article called I got an e-slap on the wrist.

What can be done about it?
As I watched my friend get angry with her husband, I got a clearer view of what happened. (It is easier to see when you are on the outside looking in, rather than the one who is angry). She was frustrated. She couldn't get an answer so she slowly started to get worked up and by the time she reached him, she was already angry and he didn't have a hope. He reacted to her anger by being angry himself. Both of them probably didn't really know what they were angry about, but were each left with a bad feeling.

Same thing at the office. Your boss might have been sharp with you and you are wondering what you did wrong. You are frustrated and so the next person who crosses your path will probably feel the brunt of it. I think some good tips would be:
  1. Don't come up with your own conclusions without communicating with the person first. My friend assumed since she couldn't get in touch with her husband, he was ignoring her. It ended up that the phone lines were down because of a thunderstorm in town and he had been trying to reach her since early that afternoon.
  2. Never send an e-mail when you are angry. I often write the e-mail and get my frustration out and then send the e-mail to myself. When I open it, I get a better idea of how it will be received and often re-think what I write. Thank goodness the Internet was also down so my friend couldn't e-mail her frustration to her husband. It is always worse to have things in writing and harder to take back.
  3. I find talking it over with a friend can be a good way to organize your thoughts. Once my friend had calmed down we started talking about it and she realized she had jumped to conclusions and shouldn't have reacted as she did. She ended up calling her husband back and apologizing for her bad mood. The good thing about apologizing is even though a bad mood was passed along, saying you are sorry goes a long way to making things right. (I wouldn't recommend talking about a co-worker with someone at the office or it ends up being gossip and spreads a bad feeling about that person. Talking to a third party who is totally uninvolved is much better.)

The bottom line is to think before communicating, but do communicate. And remember, bad moods can be passed along so stop and ask yourself if that is what you really want to do.

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