We all have to deal with them; learn how to engage positively to defuse a potentially explosive situation.

Whether it’s at work or at home, you’re bound to find yourself faced with crankiness from time to time. Crankiness can certainly stand in the way of happiness, but you don’t have to let it rule your life. Here are some of the best ways you can cope with cranky people so they don’t negatively impact your mood:

1. Use a kind—or at least neutral—tone

It’s tempting to respond to someone in the same (cranky) tone of voice in which you’ve been spoken to, but doing so will only make an unpleasant interaction worse. Keep in mind that you’re encountering someone at his or her worst (perhaps in the middle of a bad day, during a period of low blood sugar, etc.) and pause before you respond. In that pause, remind yourself to use a kind — or at least neutral — tone. This will be a challenge sometimes, but controlling the tone of your voice is one of the best ways to have a positive interaction with a cranky person. Not only do you not exacerbate the situation, but your composed tone keeps you calmer too.

2. Try reversing your reaction

While it’s a challenge not to react in a negative way to someone else’s crankiness, you can take charge of your words and actions. One of the best things you can do when you feel ready to lash out at someone else’s crankiness is consider reversing your reaction. If you want to yell, speak softly. If you want to clench your fists in frustration, release your hands and exhale deeply. Responding the opposite way from how you want to react can lead to a much more positive interaction—and it’s another great way to help you keep your cool.

3. Don’t take it (too) personally

It’s challenging not to take others’ moods personally. If someone snaps at you, speaks to you in a sassy tone or is emotionally distant, it can feel as if you are somehow the cause of this change in mood. More often than not others’ crankiness is a result of something going on internally or something unrelated to the current interaction (such as bringing home negative feelings after a bad day at work). Consider how you feel when you’re cranky. Usually it has little to do with the other person, right? Keep this in mind when you encounter crankiness around you and it’ll be much easier to handle.

4. Break it up with a time out

If someone is feeling cranky, usually the last thing he or she wants to hear is: “Are you okay? Is everything all right? Why are you in a bad mood?” Questions like these are rarely answered honestly and often irritate those feeling cranky. Instead of peppering someone with questions, take the crankiness cues as a sign to step back and do something by yourself. Take your book into another room to read (if you’re at home) or take a quick walk around the building (if you’re at work) to avoid getting sucked into someone else’s negative state of mind. This will prevent you from catching the negative vibes (they are contagious!), and it will give the other person a chance to have some alone time.

5. Create a crankiness code word

The person you’re trying to cope with might not even be aware of his or her current attitude. To communicate quickly about crankiness (without having to ask questions about the state of someone’s mood), create a simple code word to use when you’re noticing (or feeling) crankiness. It will be a one-word signal to say, “Hey, you’re being a bit cranky now so I’m going to give you your space,” or “I’m feeling irritated now so I’m going to need a little alone time.” Having a code word has another powerful benefit too: if you find yourself using or hearing it a lot, there’s a good chance something’s not making you happy. It’s a reminder to take a closer look at when you (or someone else) feel cranky and make changes if necessary.

Though you might want to, you’ll never be able to completely avoid the crankiness of others, but with these tips in hand you’ll be able to better cope when the moods of others go from good to grouchy.

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