Why Sulking Succeeds and What to Do About It

Kids sulk to get their way. I sulked when I did poorly at a carnival game. Surprisingly, it worked. But I didn’t win on my second try either. 

Years ago, when I was young and foolish, we had friends over to play Monopoly. I ended up sulking on the couch. My friend’s wife wouldn’t trade with me! (The trades I propose are good for “you”, so why reject them?)



Sulking, brooding, moping, or the cold shoulder are attempts to get attention and convince others to give us what we want.

Sulking is seeking acknowledgement and showing disapproval – without actually saying it.

Sulking succeeds when others ask, “What’s wrong?”.

Subtle expressions of sulking include:

  1. Closing the office door when it’s normally open.
  2. Walking around with a long face.
  3. Eye rolling.
  4. Sighing.
  5. Avoiding social interaction.
  6. Calling in sick.
  7. Leaving early.

Withdrawal is the safe way to say, “I’m not getting what I want.”


Lousy leaders create stress by showing disapproval subtly.

Successful leaders tell others what isn’t working. They don’t sulk, pout, and avoid issues.

Sulking feels safe. Subtle disapproval puts responsibility on others to take action. “If you roll your eyes, you don’t have to say what you really want.”

The opposite:

Do the opposite, if you’re inclined to use the strategies of a two year old to get your way.

  1. Lean in gently.
  2. Invite conversation.
  3. Use words, not facial expressions. Just say it.
  4. State goals, intentions, and expectations. Lack of clarity gives birth to disappointment.
  5. Seek to understand others. We get so caught up in our wants that we forget to understand others.
  6. Express approval more than disapproval.
  7. Focus first on your responsibility. Blame is brother to sulking.

How might leaders express disapproval effectively?