How to Keep Cool When You Are Having a Bad Day

I was always one who studied the habits of senior managers in any of the businesses with which I worked. I was amazed at the ones who could keep cool while having a bad day. And you guessed it. They were most often the most successful.

We’ve all had those tough environments at work. A difficult client turns a productive meeting sour. Your boss berates you over something you can’t control. Or everything on a project just goes wrong within one miserable half-hour period.

Check out our thoughts on team leverage.

Of course, you know that violence towards office supplies isn’t the answer and that it’s wise to keep cool despite the circumstances.

having a bad day
Having a bad day.

But in those infuriating instances, how do you get through the heat of the moment?

Luckily, there are a few things you can do to help release your frustration and refocus on being the calm, collected professional you are. You don’t want to be the tantrum-throwing child you feel like, do you?

Check out these simple ways to keep cool, no matter what comes your way.


Vent to an ally 

Most of us have at least one close ally at work. You know, someone we can confide in about everything job-related. Someone that is a wise advisor in such situations. It can be most valuable to vent your aggravation with a person who understands your company’s unique environment and employee dynamics.

Next time someone gets under your skin, a brief dialog with this trusted comrade can help put things back in perspective.

Just be sure to do it out of earshot of anyone else—a nearby coffee shop may be a safer bet than your cube.   Be sure it’s not a gathering spot for your other colleagues). And be sure to offer the same safe confidence next time your partner-in-crime is feeling spent, too.

just breathe
Just breathe.


Just breathe

I am a big fan of Thomas Jefferson (and yes, I went to UVa). Thomas is quoted as saying when angry, count to 10. When very angry, count to 100.

Though your first instinct might be to open your mouth and snap back, close it and breathe instead. You’ve heard it before, right?  Just count to 10. The point is simple. Buy yourself some time to step back and quickly get under control. The last thing you want to do is make things worse.


Having a bad day … seek support

Sometimes, what you need is support from a best friend or significant other. Good friends or significant others can be the perfect source for support in difficult situations. If you can sneak in a quick text or call and hear a familiar, friendly voice for a few minutes, it may be just enough to talk you off the ledge.

So even if your loved ones can’t offer the same inside perspective as a work comrade can, the personal boost can go a long way in cheering you up. They are good at reminding you that there is more to life than the current predicament.


Write it out and then hold for a few hours

Sometimes, finding that emotional release can be as simple as getting your feelings into words. So grab a pen and some paper and ink out your thoughts—just keep them to yourself. Never act while in an emotional state.

Emails are great assets that are easily saved for future editing. Your best bet: once you’ve exorcised your demons, rewrite the note.


Find a happy place

Take a few minutes to find something that can give you a great mental escape. I keep a set of quotations to read and calm me down after a particularly anger-inducing morning. Another favorite is to read about my favorite sports teams.

Taking that short break to distract yourself or focus on something that makes you happy can ease your stress and help you to return to work in a better mood.


Know who to watch out for

Before any conversation heads into the red zone, make a mental checklist of the people in your life with whom you should steer clear of if possible. Stay clear of those with these traits:


Short fuses

We all know someone who goes from zero to pissed off in about four seconds. Refraining from yelling right back is a great starting place. So is an ability to stay completely quiet and just listen. Many are like me, I am sure. I find that the more I engage in an argument, the angrier I get.

Never throw gas on the fire by trying to argue with someone who’s already upset. And avoid adding more evidence of things that will make them even angrier.


Serial Arguers

You know the type, spoon-fed speech and debate ones, these people will take an opposing position just for the sport. Arguing with them is like arguing with a wall. Avoid this action at all costs.


having a bad day quotes
Having a bad day quotes.


We have all experienced these types. You know, these are the people that are not quite angry, but they say things like ‘Can you believe it?‘ And rant on from there. Often they don’t mean what they say. And they aren’t looking for a conversation, either. It’s best to stay disengaged because you can’t take what you said back.


Contentious soapboxes       

This is a bucket category that can include your soapboxing Uncle Mike to your stand-up-and-sneer office mate. These people are the ones you’ve had a previous conversation that devolved into verbal mudslinging. Plan to play dumb in the future situations with these types.



Take a break

If things are intense—say, you’ve just been had a situation where a colleague took credit for your great idea—one of the best solutions can be to remove yourself completely from the area.  Take your lunch, grab a coffee, or just walk outside a bit—leaving your phone and email behind.

Getting out from the confines of those four walls can provide you the physical and mental distance you need to clear your mind, calm down and just relax.

At one point or another, we all have that day in the office where we get close to our breaking point. That’s OK. But be ready for it: Have a few tactics that you know work to get your head back into the control game. Keep your professionalism (not to mention your space) intact, no matter how bad it seems at the moment.

Not responding immediately allows the person you’re talking to a little time to self-correct a half-baked observation and prevents an otherwise working relationship from being damaged.

Note that research shows that people with high emotional intelligence are good at self-regulating and helping others regulate emotions in interactions. If you’re still working on developing EI, just sit tight to maintain your composure. Practice maintaining your composure when your conversation partner is losing theirs.


Don’t be a know-it-all

Playing dumb is simple, right? Just remain quiet until you can duck for cover in the restroom or retreat to your desk. Beware of this; it is certainly not simple. After all, because we are all human and tend to respond with comebacks, criticisms, and corrections.

Feel free to correct someone to prevent a mistake.  For example, you’re not a know-it-all if you point out that the client meeting is at 2:00 p.m., not at 3:00 p.m. But never correct someone to make yourself look or feel better.


Never take the ‘bait’ 

You probably can’t use silence exclusively without making an angry boss or client even angrier. Most emotional types usually tire out once the initial wave of emotion passes through them. Never take the bait and do anything that will make the wave last one second longer than it has to.

Use attentive silence to signal that you are paying attention.  If you can’t keep quiet, say things like “I hear you” to acknowledge you are listening without escalating the matter.

You can troubleshoot the root problem later, if there is one, once the initial wave of emotion has passed


Turn the tables

If someone is verbally dumping on you, do not interrupt, counter, or counter-attack in midstream, or you will only prolong and intensify their comments. When they have finished, ask, “Is there anything else you want to add?” Then say, “How can we fix this situation in a way you believe will work for us both?”

In effect, you are asking them to propose a solution to the issue they have raised. If they continue to complain or attack, acknowledge you heard them each time and, like a broken record, repeat yourself in increasingly brief language variations: “What will make it better?”


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Mike Schoultz is the founder of Digital Spark Marketing, a digital marketing and customer service agency. With 40 years of business experience, he blogs on topics that relate to improving the performance of your business. Find them on G+Twitter, and LinkedIn.  


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More reading on learning from Digital Spark Marketing’s Library:

The Nine Most Valuable Secrets of Writing Effective Copy

How Good Is your Learning from Failure?

10 Extraordinary Ways for Learning to Learn

Continuous Learning Holds the Keys to Your Future Success

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How to Keep Cool When You Are Having a Bad Day