5 Ways to Disarm A Grumpy Boss

by Brad Isaac on October 22, 2007

It is Monday Morning. You walk into work and your boss is grumpy. What do you do? Do you skulk off to your cubicle? Do you turn around and go home – to later call in sick?
A grumpy boss can suck all the air out of a room. He or she can cause worry among the staff and lead to an overall negative work environment if something isn’t done.

Here are 5 quick tips you can use to disarm the grumpy boss and get on with a happy workday.

1. Directly address the situation – Ask your boss what is troubling her. This takes some guts but can pay off royally. Asking simple questions like “You seem a bit stressed, what’s wrong? Can I do anything to help?” Will deflate some of the most volatile situations.

However your boss responds (or reacts), remain calm. Breathe and pay attention. There is an old saying “people aren’t mad at you, they are mad at the person who came before you.” So there is a chance there is nothing you can do except be a sounding board. This can pay dividends as far as becoming a trusted part of the boss’s inner circle.

Now if the problem is YOU, then be prepared to take your medicine. But as a success oriented person, you should want to know when you make a mistake. Listen and acknowledge the mistake. If you feel it’s unfair, save that for a calmer time. But try to see the situation from your boss’s perspective. Overall, winners take responsibility – even if it seems like it’s not their fault.

2. Divert with good news – Sometimes all a boss needs to get rid of a bad mood is some good news. Good business news can turn his bad attitude inside out. So the time to drop the good news that you landed the new account or finally finished the major hurdle that stood in the way of a major project will divert Mr. Grouch into thinking more positive.

Think of diversion as a change of subject. It is a way to put the mind into another state. A simple example is if you are stressed, turn off the lights, close your eyes and think of sitting on a warm beach for 5-10 minutes. Don’t you feel more relaxed, calm and positive?

Therefore, don’t think of diverting your boss’s bad attitude as something bad. You are doing everyone at your office a favor.

3. A small gift – Warning: I am not talking about a bribe. Remember that your boss is completely human. Sometimes their spouse ticked them off on the way to work. Other times a friend may have let them down. A small gift like a piece of candy, a funny and pertinent cartoon clipping or an article cut out of a magazine you think she’ll like. Heck, you can even print up some of the articles you’ll find on this site. That’s sure to improve anyone’s day. ;)
4. Ask if there is something you can do – Find out if there is something you can do to alleviate the situation. I am not suggesting you be the boss’s “whipping boy” by any means. Just get in there and solve some problems. If you can pick up some slack or take care of some small problem then your boss will be thankful.
5. Stay away – If you have tried prior 4 tips, and your boss is still flying off the handle, it is time for some distance. If he’s an absolute tyrant, now may be the time for you to do some work off-site. You might consider retreating to another part of the building – or your car – until the storm passes.

Now is definitely not the time to ask for any favors. When your boss is in a crabby mood, that is not the time to ask for a raise. It’s not time to ask for a leave of absence. Save your request for a calmer time.

Final thoughts: Realize that you can play a powerful role in how your office dynamics play out. You can help not only your boss, but your entire office, have a better day. It can be intimidating and a challenge, but I think you are up to the task.

I am sure some of you have some creative ways of disarming your bosses that I haven’t mentioned. Please share your strategies in the comments below. :)

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October 23, 2007 at 10:52 am

thanks for this post! my boss is a major grouch, especially today. this really helps!

October 25, 2007 at 8:19 am


I found this to be quite compelling and interesting. I’d like to introduce you a story about “Harry the Bank Boss.” He was one of the grumpest bosses I ever had and rarely promoted anyone.

But he promoted me. Why? Find out by reading my story, it’ll shock you.


Hope you like it!


October 25, 2007 at 10:09 am

These are great and helpful tips. Still, there are times when we become, as you say, the sound board for our boss. The trick is not to let this affect us. Unfortunately, many people find themselves turning into a grouch as well. This can sometimes severely affect future relations with the boss. Whatever happens, we must remember to keep our cool.

October 25, 2007 at 11:11 pm

I think #4 is underrated. Its important you know what your boss really wants from you. If everyone actually did what the boss expects, they probably wouldn’t be grumpy anymore, but pleased.

Let your boss know that you are happy to help if they need you and tell them specifically what you are going to do that can help or at least relieve some pressure (ideally something you are NOT generally expected to do already) regardless of whether they need you or not. A great performing worker who doesn’t need attention all the time and helps without having to be asked is often the best thing for a boss.

Brad Isaac October 26, 2007 at 8:44 am

Jen, that’s true. The attitudes of the higher-ups always roll downhill. but even a good boss his or her off days.

Brad Isaac October 26, 2007 at 8:46 am

Mike, you said a mouthful. In my former life I was a manager, there was always the employee who came in every day acting as if it was the first day. All of the handholding and retraining got to be old very quickly. I became to rely on the low maintenance employees to help get the job done. Those are the ones who ended up eventually getting promoted… :)

November 3, 2007 at 2:53 pm

Wow, very good advice! I’ve had many bosses over the years and now I AM the boss (or I should say, our clients are our bosses).

I think the number one thing when dealing with someone who is either out of sorts or behaving in a tyrannical way is to find out what is pushing that person’s buttons. Ask the rest of the staff if they know of anythingthat may have riled him/her up. It does not hurt to acknowledge to the boss that you notice his/her concern. I would say, don’t ask IF you can help, ask HOW you can help. The first way gives the person the option of saying NO. You don’t want that. You want him/her to be maneuvered into giving the situation some thought.

Always be kind. Really try to put yourself in the boss’s shoes.

If its really bad and happens too often, start polishing up your resume. No job is worth being subjected to constant abuse.

paula August 13, 2008 at 8:37 pm

Speaking of soundboards have a look at The
Fonejacker soundboards they will make you laugh till you cry

michelle September 4, 2009 at 3:41 pm

I have a perpetually grumpy husband but still found this article very helpful. I just replaced “boss” with “husband” and “the office” with “my family”. I try to keep a positive and happy attitude myself. That way, I’m less prone to take his rants personally and can avoid a fight to keep the peace. Thanks for a great article!

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