Deal With a Moody Boss

A moody boss can set all the team on edge, when nobody else is sure what frame of mind the boss is going to bring to work and spread through the entire office. While you can't decipher all the reasons behind why your boss is moody and chooses to take out this moodiness on staff, you can do things to make your own situation more comfortable.

Recognizing that you can't change another person, dealing with a moody boss is a lot about changing how you react to this person but it's also about setting boundaries with your boss in an assertive way that your boss is forced to acknowledge because you won't budge (politely, of course). Although it's probable that you feel that being at the tail end of your boss's bad moods is all too hard, it's worth the effort of asserting yourself and protecting yourself against boss unpredictability so that you can get on with your work and not end up taking any falls for your boss's bad moves.


  1. Recognize what you can and cannot change in a workplace context. Every day we have to get along with people who aren't necessarily people we'd ask over for dinner or have intimate chats with. The workplace is a microcosm of having to get along with people from all walks of life, regardless of their personalities. And a moody boss isn't going to be that rare given the pressures that bosses are often under. So, what you cannot change is your boss or your boss's moods; only your boss can do that after having an epiphany and maybe that moment will never come, so stop waiting around for it. What you can change is your response to your boss' moodiness and the way you see it impacting you. Should you choose to see it as reflecting on you personally, you will have a much harder and less pleasant time working with your boss than should you choose to see the boss being of a certain temperament and liable to unleash moodiness on anyone in his or her vicinity. By recognizing that you cannot change your boss but that you can take a realistic perspective, you take the first step in improving your own situation.
  2. Pinpoint what you mean by Deal With a Moody Friend. Moodiness is a fairly indistinct label that is easy to apply but not so easy to describe. Try to describe what you perceive as moodiness in boss, to order to help you address it more effectively. Moodiness can be sourced in a variety of traits and behaviors, including depression, anger, manipulation, insecurity, fear, nastiness, sickness, mid-life crises, grief, and so forth. Naturally, it isn't your place to guess at the personal motivations or underlying needs of your boss's moodiness but you do need to distinguish between variable moodiness as a general personality trait and moodiness that is manipulative and bullying. In the case of nastiness and bullying behavior, rely on workplace procedures and legal rights to deal with a bullying boss. For other cases of moodiness, you need to put into place your own strategies for working with and mostly "around" your moody boss.
    • Don't treat this as an exercise in soaking up another person's inward pain. This is the workplace, not a healing sanctuary, and you're not responsible for the other person's pain. Equally, be objective about your assessment of any behavior that you consider to be intimidating; avoid calling someone a Spot a Bully just because things aren't being done the way you'd prefer them to be.
  3. Stop envying the hierarchy. A major problem with many workplaces is their hierarchical structure, which simply means that some people are always placed above others. This structure has its own in-built bias against a boss because the workers underneath will often look to the boss and think unhelpful thoughts such as "they're the boss, they should be [doing] X, Y Z" or "the boss should know better" or "the boss is so not helping me, moody fool". Question where your Manage Teachers' and Parents' Expectations for the boss come from – unless you've been in the boss' shoes, it is going to be very hard to know what ought to be done instead of what is being done from a management perspective (technical and creative issues aside). The boss is often a little squeezed - complaining staff underneath and performance-pressured questioning from their own bosses or the board above. By realizing that the hierarchy creates situations in which a boss is likely to behave a little like a pressure cooker, you can introduce more understanding and compassion into your constructive assessment of the situation while still not belittling your own concerns.
  4. Stay healthy and well rested. It is much harder to deal with other people when you're sleep deprived, hungry, nutritionally unbalanced, and lacking in exercise outlets. You can easily start to see the world through the lens of the small circle in which you're moving because work soon becomes everything rather than one part of your whole life. The importance of daily exercise, regular and healthy sleep patterns, and nutritionally sound eating comes to the fore when dealing with difficult people because you will have your wits about you, you'll feel strong in body and mind, and you won't be prey to the fears that can creep up unawares when feeling tired, despondent, and under-the-weather.
  5. Avoid being a wimp or a clone. Do not engage your boss by turning into an obsequious "yes person" who will do anything to dance around the boss's moods. That might work initially but it won't solve anything and you will come away resentful, bitter, and liable to start complaining. Be prepared to stand up to your boss in an assertive way when the workplace issues require it. Healthy feedback and conflict resolution is an important part of producing good workplace results as well as clearing the air. If you feel that you're stifling your creativity, abilities, skills, or even your personality for the sake of appeasing a moody boss, then it's time for action!
    • Don't take to hiding from your boss as often as possible to avoid moodiness outbreaks. This will make you fearful, lurking, and worried about when the boss does turn up unannounced. Instead, always be ready to stand your ground, argue your case politely, and point out the facts (see record-keeping suggestions below).
    • Do give your boss space if he or she suddenly explodes and lets off steam. Trying to mop up things behind them can make matters worse and any person who has just lost the plot needs space to sit back and contemplate what they've done, especially if it's occurred in front of their junior staff (or in front of anyone really).
  6. Listen carefully. Sometimes we're the enemy we're trying to avoid because we just don't listen properly. In not listening carefully, we start assuming, interrupting, switching off, and making our own plans while the boss is headed in the other direction. For a moody boss, this can make things much worse because telling staff something that is not implemented through lack of careful listening and later asking a ton of obvious questions can contribute to triggering off more moodiness. No, you are not responsible for the boss' moodiness and yes, your boss should control it. But equally, neither should you frustrate another person through lazy listening and poor follow-through as a result.]
  7. Document everything. Moodiness means unpredictability, therefore shoring up your own undeniable forms of defense is essential so that you can respond to allegations of not performing wherever needed. By keeping very good records of what the boss has asked of you, including asking for clarifications, extensions, changes, etc. to your work program, you can provide proof when your moody boss flies off the handle and seeks to drag you under. It's not your place to prevent the moodiness but it is your place to prove that you had a set series of expectations in place and that you have fulfilled workplace expectations as requested.
    • Keep all written and printed records. In terms of oral discussions, write down the main points in your diary after so that you have clear recall. Some people even write down the things they're expected to do in an email and send it to the boss with a "right, this is what I'm doing following our conversation" attached. The benefit of this approach is the date stamp and the clarification of tasks/expectations. If your boss doesn't read it, too bad – at least you sent it.
  8. Interact with your moody boss assertively. You have a right to express your boundaries in the workplace. This means making it clear in a polite but forthright manner when things are not appropriate in your interactions together. For example, if your moody boss is working up to a screeching match about some work you've done; instead of screeching back, simply say firmly that you will return to discuss the work when the two of you have had a chance to calm down and think about it a little more. Or, if you feel constrained to sit there, be calm and confident and when the tirade ends, simply say "Thank you for your observations. I will consider them all in detail and provide you with a written response." The fact that you're both still calm, and taking it seriously enough to write a record of it may make your boss realize the gravity of their behavior there and then. Even if not, you have stated what you intend to do, including making a written record of the event and you haven't stooped to imitating or reflecting their hysterics.
    • Attack the problem, never the person (your boss, your colleagues, your clients, etc.).
    • Use evidence and logic when your moody boss veers off into blanket allegations or rants.
    • Avoid accusations, allegations, and ultimatums yourself. These upset any person, moody or not; and even if your boss is using these tactics, don't copy.
    • Don't argue with your boss until you have all of the facts before you. While standing up for yourself is important, venting and not having all the facts before you can make your own response as much of a moody rant as your boss's!
  9. Avoid turning your boss' insecurity into your insecurity. An insecure (and often therefore moody) boss who needs constant approbation is a pain but since there are plenty of such people in the workforce, you need to learn how to deal with them. Such a boss can often target a person whom they feel has slighted them or let them down, even if the person has done so totally unwittingly. The risk of dealing with this type of moody boss is that of taking on board their insecurities and making them your own. Rather than doing that, ask questions, seek clarification, and make it plain that you have done your work to the best of your ability, and that while you're always open to learning to do things better, you are not solely responsible for shared or team outcomes nor are you the end of the line where work remains to be checked. Don't let an insecure boss question your skills.
    • If the boss goes too far and maligns your abilities, find an expensive course that will upgrade your skills and let your boss know that after your "little discussion" you think you could benefit from attending it. It'll be a sweet outcome for you if you manage to catch your boss on this!
  10. Be humble when analyzing your role in the situation and own up to any negatives you might be contributing to the state of affairs in your workplace. Shock to the system as it might be, think about the ways in which you might be contributing to viewing your boss as moody. Do other colleagues agree with your assessment or are they simply deferring to your constant whining? Do you respect yourself and believe that your work is good, and your skills are strong? Or do you feel helpless and unable to take control of your work and therefore project your own moods on others? At least be fair and look at this possibility before dismissing it.
  11. Empower yourself. Are there things you aren't fully aware of or capable of doing? If so, empower yourself by up-skilling, learning new ways of doing things and improving your approaches to the job. Do your research to see if work itself will cover the costs for such self improvements! And while it won't change your boss' moodiness, a willingness to improve, change and better yourself will earn their respect, however begrudgingly. And will definitely lead you to the next step if needed...
  12. Move on. While your boss needs to be re-educated, this isn't going to happen in a hurry, and quite possibly not within the time you spend within that particular workplace. You have a choice to either stay Be Happy and Not Be Miserable about it or to do something that improves your quality of life. If the things that are suggested above work for you, great. However, sometimes the circumstances in which you find yourself are so debilitating to you that you cannot function properly and your work performance continues to suffer. In this case, the solution may be to move on to a new job or even to start your own business. Such a decision is not reached easily and you may find even thinking about such a leap causes you to feel afraid. Take gradual steps to changing your situation but at least face the possibility; always keep your eye on what you want out of your precious years of life rather than on the pound of flesh the workplace seems to be taking from you. The power rests with you alone.
  13. Have a sense of humor. Even a moody boss need a little laugh from time to time. It breaks the ice and it relieves the tension in his office and allow other co-workers to see their boss is less intimidating and more approachable.


  • Nastiness and abusive behavior have a contagious, trickle-down effect within a workplace. Once superiors do it, so others follow suit. In recognizing what is happening, you're already one step ahead. By realizing that you can refuse to participate in it, you start to make a change, ever so small, in how this contagion spreads.
  • If your boss is really moody and shouts at you all the time it might be time to switch careers.
  • Sometimes you may feel better having someone with you when you discuss challenging workplace issues with your boss. This may be enough to bring a moody boss to their senses because a witness is involved. Then again, it may do nothing more than subject the two of you to the moodiness but at least you have comfort in numbers.
  • Some workplaces have successfully move to a more horizontal structure where all persons involved have a voice in what happens in the workplace. You could either look for such a workplace, where boss and staff interaction is leveled, or you could even agitate for changes within your own organization. Sometimes the focus on something like this can give you back a sense of purpose that you felt had been removed from you.
  • An interactive and collaborative workplace is always desired, however, it is vital to remember that to obtain harmonious balance throughout the workplace, certain actions must be restricted. Sometimes it is easier, to stick your head down and do your work quietly, rather than striking up regular arguments.


  • Some advice will tell you to put up with your boss's behavior, to suck it all up just to get along. That's advice liable to leave you stranded and helpless. Go along with the boss only so far as it doesn't reduce your sense of self-worth and maintains constructive harmony. As soon as putting up with your boss's moods starts to negatively impact your work performance, remember that there are workplace procedures in place to support you and that the workplace is a public environment, so it isn't a free-for-all for a moody boss.
  • Remember that being resigned to a person's poor behavior in the workplace soon leads to resigning from the job. Rise above the sense of resignation to take back control!

Things You'll Need

  • Records

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