Bad days happen. We all get tired, frustrated, annoyed, perturbed. However, operating poorly on those days can have a major and lasting impact, turning bad days into worse days.
There are two good strategies for dealing with your bad day: reschedule or acknowledge.
If the magnitude of badness is bad enough or if the stakes of the commitment are high enough, you should reschedule. There are very, very few things that you can’t actually reschedule, and trying to power-through important things on a terrible day often compounds problems.
A common example is when you’re scheduled to give a performance assessment. Managers often underestimate how high the stakes are for that meeting - say the wrong thing or seem unenthused or not have an ambitious path forward for your report and the impact can be a lasting negative impression. Furthermore, managers are often loath to reschedule performance assessments - your HR department has deadlines you have to hit, your report is anxiously waiting to have the review. However, if you’re having a very bad day, you should reschedule that meeting. Better to wait a couple days than to perform poorly in a high stakes meeting.
Your intuition will say that because a commitment is very important you should follow through and keep it on schedule, even if you’re having a bad day. However, you should reschedule that commitment because it is very important, and you are having a bad day.
For lower stakes commitments and less bad days, keep to your schedule, but you should acknowledge your situation. Your poker face isn’t as good as you think it might be, and if you’re in a leadership position people will read more into your demeanor. You know that you’re frustrated because you got into a fender bender on the way to work; your report just sees a frustrated manager in a 1:1 and isn’t sure if it’s their performance, company performance, or something else causing the issue. Generally people assume the worst.
So just say what’s going on:
- “Before we start this 1:1 I wanted to let you know that I’m a bit tired because I didn’t sleep well last night, so just know it’s not lack of enthusiasm for anything we talk about”
- “I’ve had a bit of a rocky morning unrelated to anything at work, so I’ll jump in and tie break if needed, but I’ll mostly listen today if that’s alright”
Some simple disclaimers can help mitigate a meaningful amount of concern, false perceptions, and worry.
Other People’s Bad Days
Other people have bad days too. As a manager or a leader, there are two main things to avoid - punishment and solutioning.
On the punishment front, if someone has a bad day every once and awhile where they aren’t as enthusiastic or productive as normal, that’s the cost of the doing business, not means for a performance ding. If you ever find yourself saying things like “The main focus for the next half is for you to get to 100% every day”, you’re setting everyone up for failure.
On the solutioning front, people often try to fix other people’s bad days. There’s nothing worse than being around someone who requires everyone around them to always be happy. Sometimes people are going to be sad, frustrated, mad, or tired. Let them be. Bad days are to be gotten through, not to be fixed. That doesn’t mean you can’t ask if everything is alright, but you shouldn’t insist that the problems be discussed or solved.
Have bad days. Let others have bad days. Use simple strategies to avoid making bad days worse.