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Why sulking isn't likely to take you far in workplace

Panting for a promotion? Shake off that incredible sulk, turn your frown upside down and stop huffing

By Phoebe Luckhurst

Sulking is an indulgence. Unlike the corrosive fury of rage, or the distraction of anxiety, sulking is silly and selfish. And obviously it never works, because sulking is not convincing. In fact, it is pointless: no one will handle you until the grimace clears and that plump bottom lip retracts — and you will not get what you want.

Furthermore, it’s an admission of weakness. Ultimately, you do not sulk when you have the courage to address something directly: it’s a way of mollifying yourself because you’ve been ignored. Which is, obviously, why you regularly sulk in the office.

At work you are a pathological sulk. Loath to address your dissatisfaction and terrified of telling anyone how you feel, you defer instead to sitting in damp anger, sulking. Later, swilling wine from a bucket, you complain until your housemates agree you’re in the right, just so you’ll stop talking about it.

Everyone does it, though every office will have a designated teenager: someone who performs their sulks, adding a flounce as they turn on their heel, or an exaggerated sigh when the office is at its quietest.

And while it feels like no one has noticed — no one appreciates you — chances are your boss has. And has decided you’re toxic. At which point, it becomes sort of irrelevant whether or not they’re in the wrong: you’re in trouble.

Ultimately, you don’t pay your rent with self-righteousness. If your boss thinks you’re being a brat, you need to change your approach.

Mercifully, there’s advice waiting. Esoteric educational establishment The School of Life recently addressed sulking — recommending you probe the reasons why you sulk and try to gently correct them — and the latest intel from Silicon Valley, crucible of workplace buzzwords, recommends that we all practice “radical candour”’ in the office, which is basically an emphatic way of suggesting we speak our minds.

Radical candour is, obviously, the opposite of sulking. But while the latter is a redundant weapon, the former can be potent, if used effectively. Effectively does not mean brutally, or “as part of a kamikaze mission”; it does not mean telling your line manager — coolly, after a pause — that you stopped listening when they spat on your cheek during that one-on-one.

It simply means having the hard conversations: responding, honestly, when someone asks for your thoughts. It’s undeniably a better way to make a change.

Sulking at work condemns you to perpetual dissatisfaction, and it’s also quite distracting — you don’t have time to change your role, but you also don’t have time to do the work you’re supposed to. Sulking is what’s stopping you from getting that promotion, probably.

Obviously it takes (Dutch) courage (disclaimer: do not drink at work), but next time you feel your mood curdling into a sulk, consider what is making you feel so resentful. Perhaps you want more responsibility; perhaps you have too much. Perhaps you feel bored or overlooked.

Analyse your feelings, then take a deep breath and consider how you can outline them so you can raise them with someone else. Contrary to common lore, your boss would rather take five minutes to hear your — measured — thoughts than listen to you mutter from across the open-plan office.

Moreover, stop those little tics — rolling your eyes, huffing, sighing through gritted teeth, frowning at a spreadsheet — and you might find your mood improves a little on its own.

Sulking is detached and disengaged; honesty is brave.

Time to reconnect.

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