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Don’t let foul moods drag you down, too

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Keep emotionally toxic people from ruining your mood, at home and at the office. According to scientists, people tend to mimic other people’s expressions, body language and speech rhythms. That’s fine when you’re talking to a positive person. But if you’re talking to someone who’s in a lousy mood, you soon may be sounding and acting lousy yourself.

Actions you can take to keep the unpleasant moods of others from dragging you down:

Break the body-language pattern. If you’re in a meeting with an angry manager, for example, keep a neutral facial expression and posture to counter the tension in your boss’s body. Take deep breaths to release tension in your body.

Plan your day so that you don’t meet with too much negativity. For example, if you know you’re shopping with your anxiety-ridden sister all afternoon, schedule something upbeat or low-key for that evening to balance your mood.

Avoid one-on-ones with negative friends. If you can, plan a group get-together instead of a twosome. Arrange to do something—see a movie or visit a museum—rather than just hanging out and talking, suggests Jane Adams, a social psychologist and the author of Boundary Issues (Wiley).

Keep a work-stressed spouse or partner from venting about the office all evening by saying, “Let’s talk about what’s going on at the office for 15 minutes, then let’s talk about something else.”

Help a colleague or a friend stop moaning (constantly) about problems by saying, “Let’s talk about solutions,” or, “That’s too bad, but what are you going to do about it?” Says Albert J. Bernstein, author of Emotional Vampires (McGraw-Hill), “This sends the message that it’s their problem and you’re not going to take responsibility for it.”

Silence any boundary-pusher on the spot by saying, “Tell me why this is so important to you.” Bernstein says this question causes people to stop and reflect on what they’re saying. And it helps you regain a sense of control.

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