Stressed? Be Kind to Your Coworkers

Published: Feb 27, 2013

 Workplace Issues       
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Feeling extra short lately? You might blame it on the dreary weather, your bosses' bad mood, or too much work on your plate. But whatever you do, don't take it out on people at the office. Studies have shown that bad behavior is contagious, and, like a cold, can pass through entire offices in a flash, the linger.

So how to handle all the bad moods? Jedi mind tricks: kindness and smiles to trick you (and others) into feeling better.

Here's what to do:

1. Resist rudeness

A recent University of Florida study has found that workplace rudeness hurts even those who aren't on the receiving end of the poor treatment. And the ill effects aren't just emotional—those who witnessed mean behavior lost some of their ability to work on teams, problem solve, and think creatively. Morale, obviously, was damaged too, with those studied becoming less willing to participate in another study or help other coworkers.

On the receiving end of poor treatment? Pay kindness forward. Not only will it help lift you out of the negativity personally, but you maybe help put a positive charge back for everyone—or at least suck a little of the air out of a bully.

Whatever you do, resist the urge to take poor treatment out on others; the bad will is contagious enough to spoil the atmosphere of a whole workplace, and come back to you.

2. Practice a "default" smile

Smiling for no reason? Try it sometime, and you'll see that your brain searches for reasons why you're smiling.  Researchers discovered this phenomenon while tricking people into smiling by having them hold chopsticks in their mouth.

Frowning, on the other hand, closes a feedback loop in which you look for things to frown about, or even worse, unconsciously tell other people to keep their distance, depriving you of mood boosting social interactions.

Thankfully, looking pleasant and friendly is also contagious, and if you greet coworkers with a kind expression, you're likely to get one back, spreading and increasing the goodwill and good feelings throughout the office. Smiling during particularly stressful engagements also helps, lowering the heart rate more quickly in response to tough situations.

3. Reach out

 Practice this rule: if a coworker is 10 feet away, make eye contact and smile. If they're five feet away, say hello. That's the policy some companies actually have formally in place, and for good reason: it makes people feel welcome and at home in their workplaces. And it sure beats the alternative, which tends to foster negative and uncomfortable feelings: awkwardly ducking someone or looking away while passing them. Stick your neck out with friendliness, and you may see it come right back to you.

If you notice someone close to you is being nasty, try a little compassion; according to the Harvard Business Review, 60% of workers blame their rudeness as a direct response to a huge workload. A little sympathy or maybe even a helping hand could help mitigate their shortness—and gain you an ally when you're feeling overwhelmed.

4. Report repeat offenders

Harvard Business Review recently reported that 1 in 4 employees are rude because their bosses are rude. That's a lot of trickle down, especially if you consider our earlier stat about the peripheral effects of mean behavior. 

But just because your manager's abrupt or prone to mood swings doesn't mean he or she is hopeless: training might help, especially if you're noticing others at your office suffering, or worse, clients. If you're not the only one with complaints, HR might just step in to offer guidance.

--Cathy Vandewater, Vault.com

Read More:
You're Rude Because Your Boss Is Rude (Harvard Business Review)
Stress-Busting Smiles (WSJ)
Rudeness is contagious (Tech Republic)