How to Deal With a Cold Coworker
When these coworkers walk into the room, everyone knows it. You can actually feel the temperature dropping. They are in a foul mood, and have no intention of trying to hide it. The work atmosphere gets awkward and uncomfortable as people tiptoe around them.
Cold Coworkers aren’t fun to be around
Typically, cold coworkers aren’t cold all the time. In fact, they can often be quite nice when they choose. Their frequent, unpredictable, and fairly extreme bad moods, however, can make them quite hard to work with. They aren’t necessarily unproductive, they’re just not fun to be around.
Cold coworkers are people who either have no interest in, or no strategies for altering their emotional states. They are usually convinced that they have the right to be in a bad mood, and the fact that it bothers other people isn’t their problem. It is, in truth, a generally selfish attitude.
Your options are limited
Because you’re dealing with someone who’s in a fairly intense emotional state, your options are somewhat limited. Having a ‘little chat’ with them while they’re in their black mood will have no effect, and can often make things worse.
Your options are limited, but here are a few things worth trying:
1. Try a little shameless positive reinforcement. Pretend you don’t notice their mood, and ask them about something cool that they did recently. People do like to talk about themselves, and sometimes dredging up positive personal things can begin to interrupt their current negative emotional pattern.
2. Give them space. Avoid contact with them as much as possible. Negative attitudes are contagious, and you don’t allow their mood to drag you down.
3. The next time they are in a good mood, take them aside and have the “little chat.” Let them know that you’re looking after their best interests, and how their moods may be impacting the way others in the office might begin to perceive them. Reinforce the positive things about them – the things you like.
Last resort – talk to the boss
Ultimately, if you aren’t comfortable doing something yourself (perfectly understandable!), you should at least mention it to your boss so that he or she can keep an eye out on how it is impacting the team.
Wow, there is so much implicit ableism and projection in this post!
It’s just as likely that you’re used to others doing the emotional labor of making you feel good in the social interaction. That for whatever (valid)reason, they do not wish to take on this (not universally valued form) of additional labor and the feelings of negativity you experience are coming from inside.
The ‘have a chat’ about looking out for their best interests is terrible, rude advice; it disrespects basic professional boundaries. Instead focus on the need you have for others emotional labor and find ways to meet it that don’t demand emotional effort from others.
I wonder if this co-worker is dealing with either mental health issues or heavy personal issues at home. Some people purposefully keep home and work separate and will never share if they are struggling with caregiving an elderly parent with dementia, or a spouse with substance abuse problems. Years ago, someone I didn’t work with directly, but those who did, spoke about a staff person’s moodiness. Years later, this person was diagnosed as bipolar. No one ever guessed – not their family, their co-workers, or even their primary physician. I understand it is not the role of co-workers to act as medical staff or social workers, but when I think how much that person lost in the very many years they were undiagnosed, I am sad for them. Thank goodness we have more information about mental health then ever before.
Great point Nancy. We can never really know what’s going on in a person’s life, or the health issues they are struggling with. Thanks!