how can I recover from being the office grump?

A reader writes:

I’m in my first year in my job. I’m an open book, so people know when I’m happy and when I’m not. Naturally when I’m upset or angry at work, people can tell. I have been really stressed and haven’t been nice at my office lately recently. Basically I’ve been grumpy. Is there any way I can salvage the situation? Nobody is running away from me; I just thought I might be able to do something about it.

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • I missed an interview invitation while I was recovering from surgery
  • Recommending someone I laid off without revealing our financial troubles
  • Can I forward praise of me to my boss?
  • Who owns my work?

{ 93 comments… read them below }

  1. Krakatoa*

    I remember when I worked as a journalist and was trying to keep my portfolio up to date. Copy shops wouldn’t make copies of my articles as I didn’t own the rights to any of them, even being the writer on all of them. It certainly makes sense, but it made things a little more inconvenient on my end.

    1. WellRed*

      As both a journalist and a former copy shop girl, I’ve…never had that happen and it shouldn’t have happened to you. Even your current employer/editor would have expected you to build a portfolio of writing. I guess now everything is online so next time I job search I’ll have to figure that whole thing out (It’s been a while).

    2. Copyright know-how*

      Copy shops have been doing this for a long time, and I know because I handle the calls that come from the copy shops telling me so-and-so is trying to make a copy of an article. I’ve written many emails granting permission to copy shops to make a copy of an article for the person.

      This is why I try so hard to get our reporters to keep copies of their articles, especially the really good investigative pieces. No, you don’t need hard copies, but at least save digital versions because those online articles can (and probably will) disappear from the internet at some point. Don’t just save links, get it in some other format!

      1. Krakatoa*

        Our newspaper was a large enough size that I just didn’t want the hassle of trying to get permission. Digital copies worked well, but there were some times when I wanted to save packages since it felt like that showed my relative quality better.

        It wound up not being very relevant though, since the state of the industry caused me to leave it after that job.

    3. Kevin*

      Ugh, these copy shops can be staffed by busybodies. I used to freelance for tech sites. I’d get sent pre-release cell phones for review. Verizon, Sprint, whomever, would ship them to me in the FedEx soft envelopes (the kind lined with a thin layer of bubble wrap) and I would usually ship them back and there was NEVER an issue.

      Once I take a phone to a FedEx Kinko’s to be shipped back and the guy who works there REFUSES to let me use an envelope because the phone would get damaged. I asked to see the manager and he WAS the manager. Finally after 30 minutes of bickering he wore me down and I let him charge me for $10 for a small box and a handful of packing peanuts. I’m still bitter about it almost 10 years later!

  2. JediSquirrel*

    Op#1 – – Why are you upset or angry? If it’s personal, you need to train yourself to leave that in your car. (And yes, sometimes that’s difficult with major life events, but day-to-day stuff is different.) If you’re upset about work stuff, ask yourself why? Are you internalizing issues or problems with the work that you shouldn’t be? Are you dissatisfied with the kind of work you’re doing? Is this just not the right kind of job for you?

    FWIW, we all have an occasional bad day, and on those days, it helps to adopt a “fake till you make it” attitude. 5:00 will eventually get here.

      1. Marthooh*

        Yeah. Your coworkers aren’t thinking of you as an “open book”, and only the really kind-hearted ones are thinking of you as a “grump”. The rest of them use much nastier words when they complain to each other about your bad attitude.

        1. Discocat*

          This is a bit unkind- my grumpy face / attitude/ bad day might be someone else’s RBF on a normal/ happy day…

          1. TardyTardis*

            Note: in the ANGRY BIRDS 2 movie, the hero is said to have Bird Resting Face, and I nearly choked on my popcorn…

  3. I am not OP #5*

    Follow up question to #5 – if the artwork belongs to the company, does that mean it can’t be used in the artist portfolio?

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      The portfolio is examples of things you have done. A new client can’t look at it and say “This is a nice eggplant unicorn, I’ll just take it” because the company that commissioned that work (from you as a freelancer, or while you worked there in house) owns that particular piece of art. But they can’t prevent other people looking at it, unless maybe you were making charts for a deep cover CIA facility.

      1. tamarack and fireweed*

        (Well, maybe that explains why those classified PowerPoint presentations that Snowden leaked were graphically so stunningly amateurish :-) )

    2. designbot*

      No, use for your personal portfolio of work is standard in design. The AIA (who’s not directly relevant to the OP, but is a good reference point from another area of design) even says that a company cannot unreasonably restrict access to work created by an employee for use in their personal portfolio.
      The exception to this is when a project is covered by a non-disclosure agreement. In those cases you have to judge whether you could use it on your website without naming the client, in a print portfolio only (no leave-behinds), or not at all. Generally follow your company’s lead on this—if they use it in pitches, you usually can too. If they can’t even mention it, neither can you.

      1. JSPA*

        Can you still make a lorem ipsum version, with placeholder images as well, but keep the structure and the color balance and typeface and other “look and feel” stuff? Or for a building or object, blur various salient details? (I’m thinking of the “metal cladding is a serious enough change to delist it” objection to the redo of the Portland building, here, for example.)

        1. designbot*

          I’d think that would depend on the client, and their motivation for having an NDA on the project—which you may not be in full possession of the reasoning for. I’m thinking of some of my past clients, and some of them just don’t want their trade secrets getting out. If that’s the case, some version of your solution may be fair game, though I don’t think changing a material on a building would be the equivalent of deleting all content from a book spread. The equivalent would be more like not listing the use of any room on a floor plan, the location of the building, or what type of building it was, which would render the value pretty questionable. Other clients did not want anyone to know they did not do a design in-house, that they hired a designer at all, like the design equivalent of ghost writing, and wrote into contracts that the design and all implements thereof became their property. That sort of thing wouldn’t go far with them.

  4. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    OP 1: be prepared for awkward moments of blurting and for passive aggressive statements and for overtly aggressive statements along the lines of: “Wow, you’re in a good mood!” “You’re really happy today.” “OMG, you do know how to smile.” “Wait are you leaving? Why are you so happy?”
    Just stick with the basics, “Yeah, it’s a good day.” Yup, I’m fine. I’m just regular happy. and then ending the conversation. Push back like, “you never seemed happy before!” reply with “Oh, OK.” and get back to work.
    Don’t let this become the focus.* Just proceed and let everyone catch up.

    *This may never happen. Maybe you are the only one who felt you were grumpy, unhappy and unapproachable. Maybe nobody felt that way about you all.

    1. JustMyImagination*

      I don’t think replying with a dry “Oh, OK” is going to make the grumpy reputation go away. I do agree that they shouldn’t let it become a focus of conversation, though. I think it’s a good opportunity for quick subject changes “Yup, feeling good today! Did you get a chance to look at those reports I sent over?”. Or, if it’s someone they interact with but don’t work directly with “Yup, it’s a good day! Did you see the game this weekend?”.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        Oh wow, that’s really interesting, your take, because as I was imagining the reply, “Oh, OK” I was doing it with a smile and a nod.
        In particular, I was thinking about when I do this. It’s when people say things like, “oh, Bob Dylan is your favorite? I can’t listen to him.”
        smile, and “OK.”
        “You really like him?”
        “Yes.” (but I’m not having a conversation about it because I know you are about to…)
        sings a crap impression of Bob Dylan.*
        “so, here’s the TPS report”
        But I didn’t type that at all. Yes, a dry, “acknowledged, Captain,” is not going to help.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I think they are more likely to err in the opposite direction, where they stop grouching at every little thing and… no one notices, because OP1 is already a known known.

      In an ideal situation, I think there’s value to apologizing and explaining that you mean to do things differently going forward–it puts the recipients of your grumps on notice that you would like a second chance to be evaluated, and can salvage your reputation in that group if you follow through. But in practice I think that can land as outsourcing self discipline, like if you tell everyone that you’re on a diet then you will feel like you have to stick to it, which doesn’t actually work well in practice and then no one ever wants to hear again about your “Okay, this time for realsies, no 2 pm grouchies OR doughnuts! I’m going to do it!”

      1. fposte*

        Yes, I think you’re right that people won’t necessarily notice a change on their own. I think you’re right also that an apology is not a simple thing–maybe instead of apologizing, she could just say she’s trying taking a new work approach and mark it by redecorating her desk and bringing in some treats. That would draw people’s attention a bit but not set up a standard in their eyes.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          People can definitely be bribed to reevaluate their opinion of you via simple carbohydrates. Especially around 2-3 in the afternoon.

        2. JSPA*

          Rather than things that can be coded “obligingly female” (though of course everyone CAN bring donuts, and I’ll take a plain glazed, please, if you do) I might make up or over-sell a bit of good news, as an implied, “I was preoccupied for Reasons, but now everything is peachy and I’m sweetness and light again.” Nothing too heavy, but enough for you to have been distracted. Your parents told you that your old dog doesn’t have a serious disease after all, or your old landlord finally returned the large security deposit that she’d sat on for 4 extra months, or the supposed identity theft turned out to be a false alarm. You get bonus points for not having bored them with it, when it was bothering you. You can apologize for having been distracted, but point the irritation a) away from work and b) away from anything that you would not want to get into, at work.

      2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        Very much. Making a bigger deal, giving other people a vested interested in OP’s own self-improvement can definitely turn into that type of thing.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Someone I work with occasionally had a tight face and terse answers for many months. I didn’t see her for a while, then at an initial project planning meeting, she startled me by greeting me cheerfully with a wide smile. Her response to my “Hi how are you” was “Fantastic. It’s amazing how much the absence of pain improves my mood.” She’d had a joint replaced.
      So if there’s a concrete reason/resolution you’re willing to share, it might be worth sharing — at least with one office gossip who can spread the word for you.

  5. Stephanie*

    OP 1, look for opportunities to volunteer for work committees or extra assignments. I’m a WOC in a mostly white, male office in a technical field, so I try to steer clear of getting involved in many office housework tasks, but occasionally doing things like that can help soften your image. YMMV though, depending on your office dynamics.

  6. Annonon*

    #2 – I’ve done something similar. I got offered a chance to interview for a promotion the day I went in for my MRI before my last surgery. The day I went under the knife they still hadn’t picked anyone and I really wanted it as it was a transition from field to office work and I wanted to get out of the field. I had mentioned it to my surgeon (who wanted me out of the field too, as it was exacerbating my condition) who told me in pre-op that if I got the promotion he’d sign my release to work as soon as I was off my pain medication.

    Out of surgery and my pain meds had me loopy. I completely forgot about it for days, and in that time they got someone else in the position (who had a similar story to me, wanted to leave the field due to health issues).

    Sadly the worker who got the promotion passed away suddenly 3 days after I got back fully healed and I then got the promotion anyways.

  7. Alianora*

    The firing/laid off wording mistake seems to come up in letters here more than I would expect, and it honestly worries me. Is there something a laid off employee could do to preempt their employer from giving a reference like that? (I’ve never been laid off, this is a hypothetical)

    1. banzo_bean*

      My husband is in a hiring/firing role at his business of around 20 employees, but most of their HR work is outsourced. His company has had to have multiple rounds of lay offs due to non-finanical reasons (leaving market regions due to supply constraints etc). He will often refer to laying off or laid off employees as “fired” and I constantly have to remind him that there is a difference.
      Side note: we don’t talk about employees in great detail just “I had to lay off an employee today, firing people sucks!”
      As a laid off ex-employee of another company, its made me be REALLY up front in interviews about the experience. But I want to be VERY clear that I left because of required lay offs, and my work was not the issue.
      I feel like to managers lay offs and firings can feel pretty similar and require similar tasks. So, there is no way to avoid completely a slip of the tongue, but hopefully if you’ve clearly told other companies “I was laid off”, if your manager slips up and says “fired” in a reference check it would prompt them to ask “fired? Jane told us she was laid off.”

      1. tamarack and fireweed*

        When I say “firing people sucks” I mean dismissing employees for performance reasons (I haven’t been involved in a dismissal for disciplinary or criminal fault reasons). Not laying them off.

        I’d frankly expect somewhat more policed language (and using terms like “dismiss”) rather than casual speech like “fire” from someone giving a reference. It would probably good to integrate something about it into manager training.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Easiest answer to “why are you job-hunting” was the time I could say “CompanyXYZ laid off 200 people due to a re-org.”

    2. BRR*

      When I was laid off I clarified the reference my manager would give before I left and when I asked I sort of emphasized that he would say it was for financial reasons only. I’d hope worst case scenario my manager would say something like “fired due to budget” which isn’t great but I think a reference check would know. (And I’ve also noticed how often it comes up here, both ways).

    3. The New Wanderer*

      I could see it being a problem with people who aren’t in HR or familiar with layoffs as a common reason for termination of employment (just meaning you no longer work there, not indicating anything about the circumstances of how that came to be), but management and HR should not be confusing the terms at all.

      I’ve been laid off twice but the companies were big enough, and layoffs common enough, that there was never a concern it would be misrepresented. I think if that’s a risk (smaller company, rare or small number of layoffs), that can be made part of the severance deal – get an agreement from the manager about how any reference will be stated and make sure that it includes the specific words “laid off” and not fired, dismissed, or terminated (which may have “with cause” associated with it).

    4. John Thurman*

      Some people will never understand the difference between words… I left college because it was too expensive & my parents still tell people I “flunked out of school” :[

      1. bonkerballs*

        Yikes! I agreed with your first sentence, but that last bit would drive me bananas! I’m so sorry, your parents need to get it together.

        But yeah, I think there are lots of words that have similar meanings, but aren’t actually synonyms that people don’t realize. I used to work in corrections and felt like I was constantly explaining that jail and prison were not the same thing.

      2. Artemesia*

        so they didn’t provide you with a college education and then slagged you. NO ONE things dropping out for financial reasons is similar to flunking out. Laid off/fired — that is a common confusion of terms, but left because I couldn’t afford it and ‘flunked out’ — no one ever confused those. Your parents were monsters to you.

    5. fhqwhgads*

      This letter is especially confusing because the question the person seemed to be asking was “we laid someone off, how can we give them a good reference while claiming they were fired and denying they were laid off?” Because the not wanting to admit it was a restructuring part implies wanting to deny it was a layoff. I’m not trying to speak ill of the OP since there also seemed to be some language confusion and they seemed to want to do right by the person who lost the job…but there’s no way to help a victim of a layoff get a new job without admitting a layoff occurred.

  8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Many businesses go through layoffs and cycles of downsizing, it’s usually a cost prevention measure, it’s rarely seen as “oh shoot they’re struggling financially”. So I’d reframe that worry in your mind and stop letting it get in the way of giving a glowing reference for someone you only let go because of business reasons.

    I’ve hired plenty of people who have been laid off and never have I gone “oh tut tut, that business is on financial struggle street because they had to lay people off.” I just go “Layoffs stink, now on to the business of filling the spot at my company which is all I truly care about in the end.”

    You’re internalizing something pretty awful here by thinking so much about your company’s reputation over something so basic and normal.

    In the end, unless they’re a vendor or another employee/contractor, most people aren’t thinking about your financial situation anyways! So I suppose if she were going to be possibly working for one of your vendors, then it would be a little more realistic to worry about them finding out about a financial situation. But as Alison mentions, they’re still going to have an idea regardless. When someone is looking for work and have been laid off, due to no fault of their own, they’re going to be singing all over the place about how they were laid off because the company could no longer afford their position. So there’s really no secret.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I agree, it interests me as well, given it’s nature and the fact it’s not a typical question that comes up frequently.

        But I have a lot of experience with people who feel a lot of shame when their business or place of business hits the skids. It’s the same I get when people just stop answering their phones and refusing to talk to vendors when they simply cannot afford to pay them for extended periods of time. So I feel like this is the same kind personality showing itself in another aspect of the company outing itself as financially struggling.

    1. RandomPoster*

      If the OP is helping their employee get another job in the same industry, some of the concern may be about how they are perceived by their competitors. If they think your company is in a rough patch, that can spur on new strategies they take to win business, poach clients/employees, etc if they get a rumor mill running that your company is flailing.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        That’s fair! However I really want to drive home the fact that the former employee is still going to have those beans to spill for you. So there’s no reason to be cagey about it, the ball is outside of your court already, so the best way is to do right by the person you can’t afford anymore.

  9. Dust Bunny*

    OP1: Camouflaging bad days is a job skill, not a personality trait. You learn it the same way you learn pretty much any other job skill: By watching for opportunities to practice.

    My job is reference-y and sometimes people ask me absurd things (one guy suggested I run a pile of fragile, oddly-sized historic papers through the page feeder on our Xerox machine . . . ) but pretending this isn’t the dumbest thing I’ve heard all week is, yes, part of the skillset. So I smile it off, gently explain that nonstandard paper doesn’t work all that well in a self-feeding copier, and definitely do not do that.

    I’m still the same RBF introvert I’ve always been, but now I’m one who can fake being bubbly and charming fairly convincingly when I need to, which makes my job easier in the long run.

    1. Jamie*

      Yep! Due to some health issues I’m not out about at work I have some days where I feel less than great. When I still manage to appear delightful to those with whom I have to interact I think of Jon Lovitz: “Acting!” It helps.

      1. Dust Bunny*


        And I’ve had people say, “Well, I just don’t care that much”. I don’t have to care that much about the situation or the person in front of you, but I definitely care about my job. Nobody is asking me to be this Copier Guy’s friend, but protecting our historic materials and enhancing the reputation of my organization through being pleasant and helpful is, yeah, pretty much why I’m employed.

    2. merp*

      I also work in reference! LW, I know it’s hard to leave stuff behind but it’s a good skill to practice. I tend to take a new patron interaction as an opportunity to forget about whatever else is going on, it’s a weird sort of… productive escapism? Not sure how to describe it. Harder probably with colleagues (part of the good thing about patrons is that they don’t know me and don’t know that I’m grumpy) but a good skill nonetheless.

  10. PhillyRedhead*

    I’ve been a graphic designer for 10 years. It always amazes me that other designers don’t understand work for hire (the idea that they don’t own what they produce as part of their job).

    1. Kathleen_A*

      Writers often don’t seem to realize this either, but I think maybe bylines complicates it for writers. I can sort of understand why someone might think, “Well, it says ‘By Me,’ so that means it belongs to me, right?” Nope!

  11. Lil Sebastian*

    OP #4: I just wanted to echo what Alison said. As a manager, I appreciate when my staff members forward me meaningful praise/positive feedback they get from others. These examples help me know the great work they’re doing and better understand their strengths. Another suggestion – keep note of this praise for things like performance reviews or when in the future you may ask for a raise. Having concrete examples of doing your job well and getting praise from consultants helps to build your case.

    1. JustMyImagination*

      I have a folder on my computer called “I am great”, and I put any praise in there along with maintaining a list of accomplishments. It does make writing those year-end reviews a lot simpler.

      1. College Career Counselor*

        Mine is called “Psychological Income.” Definitely helps when you need a morale boost, as well as for year-end reviews.

        1. Anonymeece*

          Mine is just “Attagirl” and I’m pleased to know I’m not the only one who does this.

          1. Ginger Baker*

            I call mine “Kudos and Achievements” – the kudos part for words from others, and the achievements part meaning those projects I file in there, feedback or not, as a reminder to myself to include on my review. And I super recommend to everyone (and pester my friends about doing so, ha) that they create a similar file [mine is in Outlook, which suits fine for most people I think] basically Day One of any new job, or alternately, as soon as the thought crosses your mind ever and then forward. <3

    2. Quinalla*

      Yes, managers do not mind this at all and it does make their life easier to have concrete examples they can share with others of why their employees deserve raises/promotions/etc.

      Something I try to do when I forward this type of praise to my manager is if they helped me out with something on it, I might say, “That advice you gave me really paid off! See below from X client.” That way I’m saying thanks and letting them know what is happening.

      And yeah, it can feel a little weird to forward praise on, but reframe it as keeping your manager updated instead of bragging. In a lot of our workplaces, your manager gets most of their information on how you are doing by what you pass along like this.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I love getting praise emails about my team from my team, and I do file them into the annual review folder, particularly in case the person from whom the praise came would not be reviewing them officially (or left the organization before reviews).

        I also forward any praise emails that come to me directly to the subject and thank them for their hard work/ingenious idea/etc.

    3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Make sure to keep a copy somewhere that doesn’t belong to your employer, too!

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      One thing I’ve done in the past is to forward it as a thank-you to my manager for her training.
      “Thanks for your ongoing patience as I come up to speed in this new role. It’s paying off — we have a happy customer in the X department.”

  12. Sweet-n-sour*

    I had a coworker who went through a real grumpy spell. Recognizing it, they brought in a big bag of Sour Patch Kids for the office with a note that said, “Sorry for my SOUR PATCH!” It was a cute way to get back on the right foot.

    1. banzo_bean*

      Yeah, I bought my roommate some fancy coffee beans for the house after a paticular grumpy spell of mine and said “clearly we need stronger coffee in the house since I’ve been such a grump.”
      side note: not being a grump at home is a LOT harder than at work.

    2. Tyche*

      Yeah, I think that a quick apology for their grumpy phase could be necessary.
      I’ve found that if it’s sporadic, even admitting it in the moment it’s effective, so if you feel yourself going grumpy saying something like “Sorry, I’m being a little grumpy / frustrated / annoyed etc” could help.
      Obviously it doesn’t work if you are snarky everyday!

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This is a cute way to roll out an apology for being grouchy.

      I’m always aware that people’s moods are subject to change, especially when things are sideways for them. So as long as someone owns it and recognizes it affects us all, takes steps to avoid spilling it over into our shared space, etc that’s all I really need. I get along well with most people because of this kind of low-bar for my expectations for others, just be respectful and not act like it’s okay to be grumpy with each other!

    4. Jessen*

      I have to say I like this too. There’s nothing like free sugar to get people’s attention – and a little attention just to the fact that you’re aware of the issue might be a good thing.

  13. Junior Assistant Peon*

    OP 1 – I also have trouble hiding my feelings at work. This was why I started a job hunt when I was unhappy at my last job – I did my best to hide the fact that I hated my manager and the company, but I knew the mask would slip sooner or later, and I managed to land a new job before it happened.

  14. Llellayena*

    Is anyone else having trouble opening Inc from their phone (iphone)? I just get a blank page, though sometimes the article is up for about a second before the page finishes loading to ‘blank.’ No problem on a regular computer…

  15. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    Who owns things created as part of your work is pretty well defined in statute in most countries, but there are some situations which *feel like* grey areas.

    This is not a grey area. The company has instructed an employee to create a thing in the normal course of their duties: the resulting product belongs entirely to the company.

    That said, that shouldn’t mean that the company gets to take all the credit for the creation. There should be a mechanism for crediting creators (whether internal or public). So for example a studio owns the rights to a movie but credits the actors, the CGI team, the scriptwriters, etc; BigPharma Inc patents a drug, but the inventors are listed on page 1 of the patent; a publisher issues a book, with the author’s name on the cover.

    That acknowledgement of creation is different and separate from ownership. If you’re building portfolio then you would note your byline but mark it copyright Employer.

    Where it becomes complicated is when the next work is created. If you write a book and sell it, can you write the sequel? If you invent a chemo drug made of bubblegum while you’re at BigPharma, can you start work on Bubble 2.0 in your basement on weekends? Answer: this is where the lawyers earn their money, preferably in good contracts in advance.

    1. Dagny*

      Legally, the patent is obtained by the inventors (who are people, not a corporation). The employment contract requires the inventors to assign the rights to the patent over to the company.

      Work for hire is different: the employer is considered to be the creator of the work.

  16. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    OP5 – I don’t work in the creative arts, but the only company that made me sign an NDA made very clear (bold and double underline) that I could upload work samples in my portfolio, but my work belonged to them and any unauthorized use would be considered copyright infringement.

  17. Heffalump*

    To the grump: Own (and apologize for) your past grumpiness. If I worked with you, this would go far, even if your behavior wasn’t transformed overnight. I’ve left jobs with a poor opinion of some of my coworkers because they never did anything like this.

  18. Meercat*

    OP#1 – I would really try to work on not having your stress affect your coworkers. I’ve had this same issue while working a REALLY stressful job and it came up in my performance review a couple of years in a row. Because no matter how stellar my work was (and it really was, according to the same reviews), this was what stuck in their mind and made me unpleasant to work with. (I’m really still working on this…)

    I worked really hard to get some emotional distance from my work (I’m a bit controlling, so the mantra ‘Take the action and let go of the outcome’ was my best bud for a couple of years), put a lot of focus on not reacting in the moment, and also re-framed my own job in my mind (aka from ‘these buttholes are making my life difficult changing things around on me all the time’ to ‘they found a way that works better, and my job is to make things work and solve this problem for them’). And lastly, I would also be explicit about my communications etc – so while cutting WAY down on it, sometimes I would just say to a coworker/friend who wasn’t exactly involved in whatever was stressing me (this bit was important, you don’t want to add to their stress), say ‘ugh, can I vent here for a second?’. This had to be done VERY sparingly though.

    It’s really important to manage emotions (stress, anger etc) at work, because a) you don’t want to end up being the drama queen/king (if you’re always sighing about your stress or whatever, you may end up being that person), and b) once you are being considered for leadership positions, your resilience and ability to roll with the punches will be a MAJOR thing to be evaluated for. If people feel (and I’m leaping here, this is just coming from how I was) in any way at all like they have to tiptoe to manage your emotions, they’re not going to want to work in a team led by you.

    1. Frequent reader infrequent commenter*

      Thank you for sharing this. I’m so impressed with your current level of self awareness. Even if it took someone else pointing that out to you…good for you for taking it in stride and trying to improve.

      1. Em*

        Seconding this! I also went through something similar. In my current job, I had a very hard time not being grumpy my first year. I was over worked and stressed, frustrated, angry about work distribution and accountability. But I watched a coworker whose work ethic I really admired get passed over for a promotion due to her attitude.

        I talked to my supervisor, told her my frustrations, my desire to be promoted, and my concerns about my emotions. She enrolled me in some classes about soft skills and I also started therapy. I am still sometimes grumpy, but my coworkers don’t know that! We have great relationships and I was promoted two years in.

        We still gave low employee morale and sometimes we vent, but even if things are frustrating you, having a good attitude and demeanor goes a long way.

        One way I look at it is that I want to be approachable. Even if I don’t like someone, I want them to feel like they can ask me questions or come to me so we can resolve things or work more efficiently. Smiling and saying good morning goes a long way.

        Also, in my experience, if you’re open and accountable about trying to change, that will go a long way! I don’t think I’m ever perceived as grumpy any more, and have been complimented on my work relationships and communication a lot.

  19. Beth Jacobs*

    On #1, does anyone have the specifics of being pleasant at work? I’m a bit socially awkward naturally, but I think I’ve learned habits to pass at work: smile, say good morning in a happy voice, always say thanks, maintain eye contact, etc. But does anyone have any specific strategies? I know most of it is a general attitude, not a specific script, but I’m still interested in hearing your ideas.

    1. WellRed*

      Sounds like you are doing OK. If it seems appropriate, add a bit if neutral chitchat: how was your weekend? Love that dress! When will this heat break? If it’s appropriate to ocassionally lend an extra hand or volunteer for a task, do so. Bring in doughnuts or hang a nice/clever whatever print behind your desk. Agree to go for coffee ir offer to pick one up. This is all office and your comfort level dependent, but you get the gist. Honestly, smiling and eye contact go a looong way.

    2. Robin Ellacott*

      You sound well on track!

      Specific do’s include smiling, positive tone, and being generally willing to help out, as WellRed said. If you’re ever next to someone in a down moment (elevator, passing them in the hall, standing next to them waiting for the coffee, etc.) it’s a good time to smile or make a general friendly overture rather than seeming to ignore them. The odd positive comment about the work helps, too, ie “gotta love it when the formatting works out first try, huh?”

      Don’ts are more obvious: signs, silence, complaining a lot, ignoring people around you.

      I think you’re fine!

  20. SnickSnack*

    For #3: I’m sure it’s just a coincidence, but is #3 my ex-boss!? I’m sure a lot of people could be the employee in that situation, but it definitely spoke to me. I’m really hoping it isn’t though, because if my old boss is thinking about saying that they fired me when it actually was a lay-off in order to hide their poor financial situation I would be livid.

    In all seriousness, do laid off employees have to be concerned about their bosses doing this when it comes to talking to their networks? It makes me a little nervous that a boss could be ruining chances at a new job because of saying something like that to potential employers or if a prospective employer would reach out to the prior boss for a recommendation or explanation about loss of a job they would essentially paint you as the employee as a liar.

  21. nnn*

    For the LW who’s uncertain about forwarding praise to their manager, if you feel weird about doing it out of the blue, you can always say “Some of my previous managers have wanted to be forwarded a copy of any praise/thank-you emails I receive. Is that something you’re interested in?”

    (If you haven’t actually had previous employers who wanted this and you’re a stickler for honesty, you could say “Some managers want to be forwarded a copy…”)

    Depending on how individual vs. team your work is, another option could be to forward it as “praise for our team’s work”, even though the email only says nice things about you. And another other option is to focus on how you’ve overcome one of the problems your manager helped you with “Looks like I finally mastered the teapot spout process – the client is happy! Thank you so much for your help and support in figuring this out!”

    But yes, do forward it somehow, even if you’re not comfortable doing it directly and need to construct an “excuse”. In many sizeable organizations, client compliments are gold come performance review time!

  22. agnes*

    Office Grump: Just start behaving differently. Smile. Say hello. Ask someone how they are doing and let them tell you. If someone asks you how you are, say Fine and leave it at that. Practice a poker face.
    Just FYI, being an “open book” is not necessarily a good life trait. Discretion will take you a long way. If you can maintain “physical neutrality” publicly, then you get a chance to thoughtfully consider how and/or if you want to weigh in on something. Your opinion will be taken more seriously if it isn’t a knee jerk reaction to something.

  23. Seeking Second Childhood*

    A word choice tangent. I make a point of noticing words that *might* push someone’s pet-peeve button and writing around them.
    I’m one of the people who dislikes the verb “to liaise”…. I’m perfectly fine with the noun “liaison”, but I flinch at the verb. Doesn’t matter why because I’m not asking people to agree with me. I’m just pointing out words that you *might* want to work around when you’re trying to stand out in a good way.
    This is easier to avoid than the almost religious divide around the serial/Oxford comma — very few people would object to someone “serving as a liaison”, and there are often other punch short verbs available.

  24. CET*

    In my opinion it’s extremely unprofessional to let your emotions show like that at work…you say if you are grumpy everyone knows about it. Leave that for your private life. At work you have to fake it and be more mature and professional.

  25. Robin Ellacott*

    OP#1 – we just spoke to an employee about his grumpiness and very apparent “could not care less” attitude. He had just had some personal stuff happen that was understandably rattling him, but the black cloud around him was pronounced and he was making everyone around uncomfortable. Initially he reacted poorly to the feedback but since then has made a huge and visible effort and impressed us all. He also said it made him like his job a lot more when he felt good about making an effort at work. Now I’d say we all think better of him than we did before the grumpiness hit.

    Two positives for you: nobody had to talk to you, you spotted your issue yourself, which is commendable. And you may find what our employee did: he actually FEELS more cheerful when he puts in the effort to SEEM cheerful. “Act as if” is a real thing.

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