How To Manage Other People’s Bad Moods Like a Pro

#3: Be a mirror, not a mechanic

Nick Wignall
7 min readJul 10


Photo by Crypto Crow

I get this question a lot as a therapist:

How do you sit there and listen to people’s problems all day? Don’t you get depressed?

Honestly, not really.

You might imagine that all the sadness, frustration, anxiety, and shame my clients tell me about would start to rub off on a guy after a while. But, if anything, I feel like I’m a little better at managing both my own emotions and other peoples’ because I get to practice all day long.

The ability to manage other people’s bad moods and difficult emotions well is an ability that can be practiced and strengthened.

What follows are 5 specific skills I’ve learned that help me to effectively and respectfully handle other people’s difficult emotions.

If you can learn to cultivate them, these skills will help you keep your cool in every relationship in your life, especially the most important ones — like spouses, bosses, parents, partners, and children.

1. Painful Emotions Are a Puzzle, Not a Problem

When someone close to us is racked with anxiety, overwhelmed by sadness, or just incredibly frustrated, it’s natural to see their emotion as a problem — something to be taken care of and resolved quickly. This is why we so often turn to advice-giving when people we care about are upset.

But as I’m sure you’ve come to learn, giving advice to someone in the throes of a bad mood is typically unhelpful at best and often counterproductive.

Instead of viewing someone’s bad mood as a problem to be fixed, what if you shifted your perspective and saw it as a puzzle instead?

Viewing someone’s emotion as a problem puts us in a moral frame of mind — we think of the emotion as something bad to be gotten rid of quickly.

On the other hand, thinking of it as a puzzle puts us in a mindset of curiosity. And when we’re curious about another person’s emotion, it’s far easier to be validating, understanding, and empathetic, which is what most people…



Nick Wignall

Psychologist and writer sharing practical advice for emotional health and well-being:

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