How To Handle The Most Awkward Situations

From texting the wrong person to being trapped in a boring conversation, we've all been there: situations that require a rewind button and a swift exit. Here's how to handle a few of the most cringe-worthy.

Years ago, I had a coworker--let’s call him Mark--who wore a lot of cologne; so much that you could smell him coming. One morning, another coworker joked to our boss at the coffee station that Mark used enough Polo to choke the horse. That’s when Mark walked in. My boss turned to him, said, ”You might want to lighten up on the cologne,” and walked out, leaving the three of us staring at the floor.

Awkward.

Turns out, Mark wasn’t alone in his “crime.” Adam Dachis coauthor of The Awkward Human Survival Guide says odor, good or bad, is one of the most annoying workplace situations. But it’s also awkward to handle.

Instead of avoiding an issue, Dachis says you should put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Would you want to know? “Talk to the person and be as kind as possible,” he says. “When it’s coming from a good place, it’s easier for everyone.”

In Mark’s case, his sense of smell was poor and he had no idea he was overdoing it. All it took was one person letting him know, and the situation was solved. In fact, the most common problems that come up that most are usually standard human stuff that’s been going on forever, says Dachis. “But people are less adept at social interaction because of all of our devices,” he says. “They’re also afraid of losing their job or of making the situation worse.”

The more awkward situations you handle, the easier they become, says Dachis. Here are five more situations that might be happening around you, and how you can handle them:

Accidentally insulting someone.

If you’ve ever sent a text or email to the wrong person that included a less than positive opinion of the person who just received it, you know the definition of awkward. While you probably regret the mistake, you should take it as an opportunity to discuss the thing that was bothering you.

Don’t make up an excuse or try to backtrack; a candid conversation will lead to forgiveness much faster than a bunch of BS, says Dachis. But apologize only if you care. “If you don’t like someone, don’t waste your time trying to make things better,” says Dachis. “Use the mistake to get rid of someone you never wanted in your life.”

Being put on a project with a lazy coworker.

If you’re working with someone who isn’t pulling their weight, the key to solving this issue is to not give them too many chances. One mistake is okay, but when it happens again and again, it’s time to take action. Explain to your coworker that the project is important to you, and you want to make sure you both see things the same way, says Dachis.

Also, talk about your needs instead of their faults, says Dachis. Instead of saying, “You did the opposite of the plan we discussed,” say, “I need you to communicate more so we know we’re on the same page.”

Getting out of an awkward conversation.

We’ve all been at a party or conference where small talk with someone nearby becomes awkward. Either you don’t know what to say or you’re bored by what they’re sharing. It can lead to a feeling of being trapped. Dachis says there are a few ways to get out of there without feeling like a jerk.

If you’re at a party, excuse yourself to get a drink; if you’re at work, you can leave to get some coffee. You can also say, “It’s nice talking to you, but I have to talk to someone before they leave.” If your conversation is on the phone, end it by saying, “I’d love to catch up, but I have somewhere to be.” This will put an end to the conversation and allow you a chance to exit.

Quitting your job.

Many of us dream up grand exits from jobs we hate, but what if you want to quit without burning a bridge? It’s normal to grow out of a job, says Dachis. The key to handling this awkward situation is letting your supervisor know it’s you and not them. Tell your boss you’ve found a job that allows you to learn something new. Focus on what the new job offers and how it will help you accomplish your goals instead of what your current job lacked.

Offer to find a replacement or train the next person. And resist the urge to be critical. “It’s fine to explain the things that worked and didn’t work about the office, but remaining polite and positive will help preserve your reputation with the company,” says Dachis.

Working for a bad boss.

Ever had a boss who made it difficult for you to complete your work? Either they stare at you, forget to tell you important information, or take credit for the work you do. You have a right to say something, says Dachis. Figure out the real issue before you speak to your supervisor. For example, instead of saying, “You’re difficult,” say, “It’s difficult for me to do my job well when I’m not given updated information.” This will open the conversation.

Some bosses aren’t trying to make you uncomfortable, they just have different management styles, says Dachis. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about things that are your responsibility. And if this doesn’t help, ask a trusted colleague if others are having the same issue. There can be power in numbers if everyone comes forward with the same complaint.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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  • We've actually made a discreet button called the TIYO that you can press to call yourself and get out of these awkward or cringe worthy scenarios! It'll even tell you what to say on the call to make it sound like you are having a real "urgent" call that needs to be dealt with. Here's our Indiegogo campaign: http://Igg.me/at/tiyo

  • One more: Being told by upper management that you're heading up a troubled department effective immediately, and then informed you have 15 minutes to fire the guy you just replaced. After the news dropped, I said I had a few more remarks. "Right now only upper management, you and I know you were fired. I'm not going to tell anyone, so you 'own' your story. You already had told your colleagues you're looking forward to taking a new job 'soon.' I strongly encourage you to stick around today. I'm willing to trust you to transfer the paper and digital files for your nine assignments to me, work on your story, and walk out of here with your head held high. Deal?" I paused and then offered a handshake. At noon he told his wife what had transpired. She was actually relieved they could take some time off that summer before he rushed headlong into his new job. It's not always possible to escape work's most awkward moments, but it's often possible to redeem them.