Is there a ‘grumpy cat’ in the surgery?

Clinical team members know too well what it is like to work with a grumpy practitioner or assistant. It’s awful!

The signs are obvious. A brooding expression, demanding rather than asking, short-tempered, low tolerance and the absence of any humour.

The occasional irritable mood can be forgiven. Life in the surgery can be stressful. There are time pressures, anxious patients, difficult access to the mouth, the patient isn’t numb yet, running out of the surgery to get more stock or instruments, the next patient is waiting, the procedure is not going to plan, there is still a high-spot…and what is that background music? Did the singer just say the f-word?

We have all experienced states of grumpiness. It can feel a little satisfying, too. Remaining grumpy allows us to avoid the effort of taking positive action. And it is a nice passive-aggressive way to let others know we are unhappy.

However, your co-worker’s reactions and responses to your grumpy mood may inspire you, or scare you, to snap out of it.


It does not take long for your co-worker to discover that you cannot be pleased while in your grumpy state, so they will simply stop trying. They will actually resist helping you.


Like attracts like, so your co-worker will pick up on your grumpiness and start to become grumpy with you.


If your co-worker is a naturally happy and upbeat personality, your grumpiness will alienate them and after time will seek ways of removing themselves from having to work with you. Usually, it is these naturally happy personality types who make ideal teammates and pushing them away is not going to help you.


Co-workers start to see you as someone who allows emotions to be in control rather than being in control of yourself. Getting the reputation for being difficult to work with will be damaging to your standing in the practice.

You can see that allowing your grumpy state to linger creates a negative environment that will make you even more grumpy!

Snap out of it using the following six tips.

START THE DAY HAPPY Start the day happy by developing a positive morning routine. Listen to upbeat music on your commute, arrive early and build enthusiasm for the day ahead. Greet everyone with a big smile and an energetic ‘good morning!’.

MORNING HUDDLE Conduct a morning huddle to help set a positive tone and ensure excellent organisation for the day.

SMILE Catch yourself when your mood turns and then force yourself to smile and take a deep empowering breath.

GRATITUDE Remind yourself what to be grateful for. You are fully-staffed in the surgery, you have patients in the book, you have a job, you are able-bodied and healthy.

ROSE-COLOURED GLASSES Look at your co-workers and appreciate their attributes (reliable, good-humoured, great with patients, efficient, etc).

GET SUPPORT If a grumpy attitude has become your habit, ask your co-worker for support as you go through the process of becoming aware of when it happens and encouraging you to shift to a brighter mood. Exhibiting this degree of vulnerability can have a positive and powerful impact on your relationships.

Of course, you may have created a habitual expression or stance that makes others think you are grumpy, when, in fact, you aren’t! Asking for support will bring this additional aspect to light, and you can then do something about it.

One of Charles Kovess’ favourite insights into behavioural change is this: “you can’t pull a weed out of the garden until you recognise that it’s there!”

This is another reason why your self-awareness is such a crucial factor in your effective leadership.