3 Secrets to Handling Awkward Moments at Work

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“Hey, do you have a minute? I want to run something by you.  But, it’s really important that you keep this confidential.”

“Can I talk to you about something? I’ve got this situation going on but this has got to stay between you and me.”

People tell me things. All the time. 

Despite the double dog dare secrecy, most of the things people tell me aren’t gossip or trade secrets. It’s way worse than that because they share their grisly details of conflict, miscommunication, unhealthy competition, and the weirdnesses that crop up between people confined to freestyle work spaces (stop leaving your socks on the office floor and microwaving fish, people)!

Here’s a classic misunderstanding: Jen was approached by a peer about conducting some research that would require more work and historical context that she didn’t have. During the exchange, her co-worker got a little direct and said some things as she walked away quickly. Okay, maybe in a slight huff but not big and ugly bad, just awkward.

Since that time, their interactions have been pretty nonexistent. When prodded, she described having a pretty good business and social relationship with this co-worker up to that point.

When we talked about getting things back on track, she shut down. While she wanted things to be better, she didn’t want to approach her. She was considering just letting it ride since her contract was ending in a few months.

Can you imagine going in every day for the next 2-3 months, feeling uncomfortable with someone and hoping you just won’t have to deal with them?  I’ll bet you can because people do this for weeks, months, even years.  Generally speaking, it doesn’t help much.

When you run into awkward situations like this, what can you do? Here are 3 secrets that we’ve seen work over and over again:

Let go of your story about being right and having been wronged. What’s the Most Respectful Interpretation (MRI) of the incident you can apply? Let’s face it, it was a one-off and the other interactions have been generally positive.

Consider the possibility that your colleague has no idea any feathers were ruffled. People with direct communication styles often don’t realize that their style may have come on too strong in some situations. I’m not defending the real jerks out there.  It’s possible that what you consider to be rude may just be a lively exchange to your co-worker.

Go to the source and check it out. I don’t mean your Mom or work BFF but the “actual person.”

You might say something like: “We have always had a good working relationship and I felt like things didn’t go that smoothly in our last conversation. Is everything okay with us?” Then stop talking. Be prepared to listen, not just waiting to defend your position.

Watch for the magic that happens. When we stop rehashing how we were wronged, we open up possibilities. It’s not about never having awkward moments; it’s about what we do once it happens. Keeping our interactions clean moves us toward the outcomes we want: great results and personal satisfaction.

Share your experience:

  • What are some awkward situations that come up in your workplace?
  • What could you do differently when these situation arise?
  • What tools are in place to support you?

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