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How to Handle Uncomfortable Situations at Work


How to Handle Uncomfortable Situations at Work

Consider these tips on how to deal with an uncomfortable or unprofessional situation at work.

Twenty-one minutes into Peggy Caruso's recent two-hour book launch event, her screen went blank. Caruso, who is the author of the new book "Take the First Shot: Strategies to Fire You Up and Change Your Life," shared that at that point, her heart was racing. She had a guest speaker via audio and couldn't react.

At 24 minutes, Caruso decided to share the news with her audience, calmly explaining to the room what was happening, knowing there was nothing she could do to fix it at that moment. She also took it a step further and added a moment of levity, explaining that her area of expertise is executive and personal development coaching, not information technology. Buoyed along with her audience by this light-hearted humor, Caruso was able to resurrect her presentation and keep things moving forward in a positive direction.

The author believes that employees can employ tactics like these to help them get through their own uncomfortable or unprofessional situations that may arise in the workplace. Whether you need to navigate office politics, overcome technology snafus or manage conflict with caustic coworkers, consider the strategies below, recommended by Caruso to help you avoid making things worse by overreacting.

Office Politics

When it comes to dealing with political situations at work, Caruso offers the following recommendations:

Ditch the drama. Caruso suggested beginning by ditching the drama that often lurks behind office politics. One way to do this is by avoiding cliques and other divisive factions at work. "Cliques didn't work in high school; they are not going to work now," she said. "You are far more productive when everyone works together."

To steer clear of office drama, you can also practice what Caruso calls "S.O.S.," which stands for Seek Out Silence. "Not all things are worth your energy," she explained. "Confrontational subjects may come up at work; however, you should change the subject or choose to walk away."

Enlist multiple viewpoints. Having more minds thinking about a sticky political situation can lead to better solutions. Caruso suggests thinking outside the business plan and enlisting the insights of team members. "Just because you have always done things a certain way doesn't mean it's the most effective way," she said.

Therefore, she suggested asking co-workers or your boss for their input and ideas on how to circumvent office politics, rather than feeling overwhelmed or discouraged. Part of this requires learning how to effectively communicate with different audiences. "You will be far more productive if you can work through things together calmly," Caruso said. "Just because someone doesn't see things the way you do doesn't mean you cannot come to an agreement." 

Technology Snafus

Based on her own experience, Caruso says you can professionally handle potentially embarrassing tech fails with grace and humor:

Keep calm ... carry on. As Caruso discovered during her tech problems on her book tour, the way you react to a technology glitch can make or break your performance. "In a world where we increasingly communicate with technology, there will be glitches we need to overcome," she said. "Although ignoring them or overreacting are common practices, there are many beneficial ways to deal with them."

When a situation turns negative, people generally panic, she said. Instead, she prescribes staying calm and realizing "there is a solution to every problem." She also suggests that when communicating about this uncomfortable situation with your audience, you might try leveraging the fact that to err is human. "Owning that you're not always in control shows the audience that everyone makes mistakes," Caruso said. "Properly communicating the issue gives the audience a sense of connection."

Laugh it off. Once you make the personal connection with the "keep calm" strategy above, Caruso believes you should next pull in laughter. "It eases the tension and allows you to move on," she said.

When doing so, you can promote your mistake the way she did during her book tour. "Utilize the opportunity to promote yourself, your company and your skills," she advised. Share with the audience that the problem is not necessarily your area of expertise.

Caustic Coworkers

Difficult people and personalities in the office can drive you crazy – or you can take steps to take control of the situation and how you feel about it:

Break the negativity chain. The first step in dealing with difficult colleagues, according to the executive coach, is to break the negativity chain. Begin by realizing the negativity that you bring to the table," Caruso said. "When you begin to change, those around you will make changes."

Lose the hypersensitivity. Caring too much about what a problematic co-worker thinks or says can drag you down to their level – a losing proposition. Caruso suggests asking yourself the following questions to determine whether you're being hypersensitive about dealing with a co-worker who is merely annoying:

  • Am I overreacting?
  • Is this situation worth being emotionally negative about?
  • Were the intentions of the person purposely mean, or am I taking it wrong?

In some cases, though, you'll realize that in fact the person was intentional in their actions. In that case, you may be dealing with something more serious such as a hostile work environment – if so, inform your human resources department.

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