I'm working at a research institute at university, the atmosphere is quite relaxed and it is quite common to make jokes. Today, a colleague and I went to the the kitchen to grab a coffee and wanted to pick up another colleague on the way. As usual the door to the colleagues office was open and we knocked on the frame of the door. The colleague in the office replied with "Oh no it's you" which also was meant as a joke, at least I interpreted it this way. I then closed the door of his office as a reply to his cheeky behaviour, but later that day the colleague approached me and told me that he was quite angry about me closing his door because he interpreted it as me saying "shut up".

I was quite puzzled and couldn't find an appropriate answer to him since I thought we both just made jokes, how should I handle such a situation? I want to avoid having misunderstandings but at the same time it's just part of the culture to make fun of somebody.

Additional info: he is a postdoc and I'm a PhD student. He also mentioned that he had slept too short and was not in a good mood this morning.

  • well obviously I can always avoid doing things others might don't like, but then the atmosphere at the institute would not be the same anymore.
    – ksudoer
    Apr 12, 2017 at 18:13
  • 2
    @ksudoer You can't have it both ways. You're asking for advice as to how to "deal with" a situation, and at the same time you don't want to take any responsibility for having contributed to that situation. It sounds like you're using "the atmosphere" as an excuse. Joking around is great, but you can do that and still be sensitive to your coworkers' current state. Being considerate won't harm the atmosphere, it'll improve it.
    – Caleb
    Apr 12, 2017 at 18:40
  • I did not say that it's in principle not a good idea to say sorry, but I can not read the mood of the people especially if the situation was quite usual and the relationship to the colleague very informal. My question rather aimed at how to behave if you are not at all able to understand the faux pas.
    – ksudoer
    Apr 12, 2017 at 19:13
  • @JoeStrazzere i totally agree with that, but don't you think that in some cases there is also the possibilty of an overreaction. I mean I could also feel uncomfortable due to his first reaction.
    – ksudoer
    Apr 12, 2017 at 19:39
  • How do you want them to deal with you on the days when you are in a bad mood? Accept that it has nothing to do with you and try to quietly give them space (and support, if appropriate and desired) to recover.
    – keshlam
    May 3 at 14:48

3 Answers 3


Just explain that you meant it as a joke and apologize if it didn't come across properly. Then try your best to ignore the ensuing awkward silence and move on. Given the environment you describe, I would expect all will be forgotten by the next day.


How to deal with coworkers bad mood?

Just accept it and try to be considerate. Bad moods happen to everyone, possibly even to you sometimes. When you detect that someone is in a funk, be kind enough to put joking and teasing on hold and either leave them alone or give them a bit of encouragement, as the situation demands.

It sounds like you and your colleague had some miscommunication, and he later approached you to either apologize or to at least talk it over. The right thing to do there is to take some or all of the blame, shake hands, agree that it feels good to have sorted out that mess, and move on to happier topics.

These things happen. Whether they resolve quickly or continue to fester depends on you dealing with them honestly and openly, and not holding on to grudges.

  • you may be right, but at that moment I simply had no chance to detect that he was in a funk and since he was approaching me with quite some time in between to think about the situation I had the feeling that he wanted to sort of clearify the hierarchy.
    – ksudoer
    Apr 12, 2017 at 14:49
  • All pretty understandable. Given a bad mood, he may have missed the joking aspect of you closing his door. Whether he was clarifying the pecking order later or not, the best you can do is to say "I'm sorry we got off to a bad start this morning -- I should've been more thoughtful/perceptive/considerate." Listen honestly to whatever he has to say about it, acknowledge it, and then move on.
    – Caleb
    Apr 12, 2017 at 15:01

"oops, sorry", then let it be. That's the best way to deal with any faux pas, be it a coworker's bad mood or a joke that falls flat, or in this case both.

The less a deal is made of it, the less a deal it will be.

  • I've often used this approach, but in this situation it might be seen as dismissive. The colleague went out of his way to approach ksudoer. They might just be wanting an apology.
    – nardnob
    Apr 12, 2017 at 21:22

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