Subscribe to

The Unconventional Guide to Work

Life’s too short to be bored at work. We can help.

How To Handle Awkward Situations In The Workplace Like A Pro

Have you ever admired those people that can waltz out of tight spots without so much an unsettling a (perfectly styled) hair on their head? I know I have. Nothing fazes them. And when you’re in the workplace, with your best professional face on, it’s important that you learn how to deal with uncomfortable situations.

We’ve got your back. Read on to find out how to handle some of these awkward situations like a pro.

01 – The Heated Argument Between Senior Management

You’ve been lurking near the coffee machine waiting for an opening in the steady stream of traffic to get your caffeine fix. Unfortunately, just as the line clears, you hear two voices arguing in a rising crescendo. It sounds like the kind of stuff you definitely shouldn’t be eavesdropping on – but you have a basket full of ground coffee in one hand and there is literally nowhere to go.

Whether you’re part of senior management yourself or an unfortunate employee in the wrong place at the wrong time, this is never a very pleasant situation. What can you do?

A: Use the information you overheard as blackmail material

B: Have a giggle over it with your girlfriends later on

C: Pretend like nothing happened

D: Inform someone from HR

Depending on the severity of the issue, we recommend either C (e.g. if the conversation overheard was regarding personal matters only) or D (e.g. if you overheard the plotting of an elaborate company-wide scam).


02 – The Team Member Who’s Not Pulling Their Weight

There’s always the one person who slacks off and lets the team down. They’re really vague about their hours to senior management, manipulate their timesheets, or skive off and let the intern do all the work. And the worst part is, when confronted, they’re able to charm the pants off anybody so they're never taken to task. What do you do about Lazy Larry or Scapegoat Susan?

A: Report them immediately!

B: Confront them face to face – there’s no way they’d deny it when you KNOW they know you know...

C: Blackmail them

D: Speak to a superior

Make sure you have some solid proof before you make your case. A good way to manage the situation is to broach the subject delicately and give a warning. You don’t want to be a tell-tale, but if the behaviour continues and the rest of workmates are having to pull up slack..let your colleague know you’ll take it up with your manager.


03 – The Unfortunate Bathroom Encounter

You forgot to lock the door and someone walked right in while you were doing your business. Luckily these are same sex toilets, or you might never have lived it down. Much awkwardness, blushing and apologizing ensues. You can either ...

A: Pray they work in another department and you never have to see them again

B: Create an elaborate ruse to get them transferred to another office

C: Look them in the face and accept their apology

D: Shout at them for their lack of basic bathroom courtesy.

Even though D is pretty tempting, it’s better to let some things go. As Russell Peters would say: Be a man: Do the right thing.


04 – The Christmas Party Aftermath

Okay, there was a generous amount of alcohol available. You can’t be held entirely responsible for what happened. But um, what actually happened? You don’t remember and you hate not being in the know. Your options are to:

A: Threaten anyone who dares post pictures online

B: Physically search everyone’s phones for evidence of last night’s mischief

C: Destroy their phones without even checking (you’re sure it was THAT bad)

D: Find the keeper of all knowledge and demand they tell you

You’re not quite sure what it is, but HR and the Front of House staff have a way of knowing everything that goes on. If you play your cards right you might be able to coax it out of them.


05 – The Pining-For-Your-Love Colleague

Sometimes things happen at work that are beyond your control. It’s all very awkward and strange...especially if the feelings are not reciprocated. What can you do?

A: Put up with it, a harmless crush is bound to pass

B: Firmly state that you are involved or uninterested

C: Lead them on for a little while – after all, it’s kind of funny

D: Set them up with your better-suited friend/colleague.

All of A, B or C appeal to us. Take your pick but whatever you decide – don’t be mean (i.e. C)


06 – The Email That Gets Sent To Everyone That Really Only Was Meant For One Person. Oops.

Gmail’s “undo” function has been discovered just a tad too late and there is nothing you can do. Short of burning every computer in the vicinity. How do you react?

A: Shrug it off and pretend like it was totally meant for the whole office to see

B: Apologize profusely and promise to never do something like that again

C: Go undercover til it blows over: change desks and swap name-tags with your neighbour.

D: Get transferred out / Leave the country

Email can be devious at the best of times, the send button a huge and distracting button, willing you to press it before you’ve even had a chance to double check your grammar. And let’s be honest – a mistake like this could easily occur in the future so you’ll want to make sure you can live it down.


07 – The Super Delicate ‘Business Restructuring’ Conversation

Okay, so this is never easy nor fun. What do you say when you're given a new position and your colleague is left without a job? Or worse, if you’re the one imparting the news to your employees? You can:

A: Offer a shoulder to cry on

B: Announce it and then quickly change the subject

C: Assure the affected employees that you’ll give them a solid review and help make their transition period as easy as possible

D: Send an email out informing everyone of the changes

Nothing good ever comes from company-wide emails, did you not read number 6 above? If you have to be the bearer of bad news, make sure you offer support graciously and supportively.

Our #HowToHandle series gives you tips and tricks to deal with situations in the workplace – everything from managing client relationships, to dealing with new staff, interns and awkward workplace conversations. Stay tuned for Part 2. If you found this useful or even the slightest bit amusing – make sure you share it far and wide or let us know in the comments below!


 What do you think about our new Unconventional Guide to Work? Inquiring minds want to know. Share your feedback.