We’re all susceptible to an uncomfortable or embarrassing moment at some point or another – which could happen in any context, including at the office. When you find yourself caught in an awkward situation, reacting appropriately could transform the moment from a humiliating memory to simply a one-time blunder. Here are a few tips to navigating those sticky situations gracefully (and to staying prepared so they don’t happen again!).
You spill coffee on your shirt and are unable to go home and change.
At this point, it’s too late to benefit from the first suggestion, which is to be prepared. Keep a spare shirt and tie in a desk drawer for exactly this kind of situation. If you have a private office, hang a spare jacket on the door for any wardrobe mishaps. Keep travel-sized stain remover, as well as a small brush and extra lipstick, for use to quickly freshen up in between meetings or after lunch. These accoutrements will occupy minimal space and can be lifesavers when needed.
In the case that you do not have such emergency supplies, work with what you have to make a stain as unnoticeable as possible. Immediately after a spill happens, excuse yourself to the washroom to scrub with cloth and cold water. Manipulate your other pieces of clothing (such as a scarf or a cardigan) to conceal the stain.
You share a workspace with a messy colleague.
Sharing a small office or space with a disheveled coworker not only can be distracting and disruptive to your work, but it can also reflect poorly on your image. If this bothers you, don’t discreetly clean up their mess or hide your sentiments; similarly, don’t address the problem passively, such as through a note or an email.
Be direct: ask to have a brief meeting where you address the problem rationally and without judgments. Then, discuss solutions, such as creating a cleaning schedule or sharing costs for more storage space. The more the conversation is friendly and devoid of blame, the more likely a colleague will be open to changing his or her habits.
A colleague has claimed your lunch from the fridge.
The first step is to let it go. By most accounts, taking someone else’s lunch from a communal fridge is unintentional, especially if the food is unlabeled and not in a personal container, such as a piece of fruit or a yogurt. Even if you know who did it, avoid escalating the situation into a conflict.
Instead, use it as an opportunity to improve the situation for everyone in your office. At a meeting, mention that the fridge is getting unorganized and provide solutions: take it upon yourself to do the first cleanup, and propose that colleagues label their dishes and that anything unclaimed should be thrown away each Friday. This will keep your kitchen organized and prevent any confusion in the future.
Your cell phone rings at an inopportune moment.
Especially for those who are used to keeping their cell phones on “ring” mode during casual meetings at the office, it can be easy to forget to silence them when necessary. Unfortunately this forgetfulness can turn in to a very awkward moment, when a cell phone rings during an important meeting or during someone’s presentation.
If this happens to you, the first step is to turn your cell phone off immediately. Even if you have to draw attention to yourself by looking in your briefcase for the ringing phone, do not wait until it stops ringing or pretend that it is not your phone.
If your phone does ring during someone’s presentation, approach the presenter following the presentation and apologize.
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