No matter how you look at it the people you work with are human. And as humans, sometimes you or your co-workers do quirky things at work that may be considered out-of-place or even inappropriate. No, I’m not talking about the occasional gossip at the water cooler about some guy who got a chin implant and now looks like a pouty Captain America. But rather situations that are so awkward they impede productivity.

So to help you deal with awkward office situations, we give you five of the most common human errors in (workplace) judgment and how to handle them.

1. Mr. (or Ms.) Too Much Information

This is the guy (or gal) who gives you their entire life story in the time it takes to make 30 copies. There you are, captive at the Xerox machine while Mr. TMI goes on about his divorce or latest sexual conquest (which is even ickier if the person he’s talking about also works in your office). Eventually he’ll feel comfortable enough to share pictures of his colonoscopy with you, so unless you’re looking forward to seeing snapshots of the lower digestive track of an avid meat-eater, you’re going to have to grow a spine quickly.

At his first utterance of something too personal, stop him mid-sentence and tell him that you’re neither a priest nor a therapist, so you’re really not interested in his true confessions. If he gets defensive, start babbling on about your kid’s performance in the school play or the last time you had the tires rotated on your car. Trust me, he’ll go away.

2. The Break-up

We’ve all been there. Two employees start dating and then they have a massive fight, which leads to an ugly break-up. Battles lines are drawn and you’re expected to take sides. If you don’t, you’re labeled unsupportive. And if you do, then you’re a backstabber. This is a no-win situation. So it’s best to just avoid both parties until A) one quits, B) one kills the other, or C) they both come to their senses and learn to get along (at least at the office).

If you’re the boss (or just a really concerned friend), meet with both ex-lovebirds privately to come up with a plan that will help them get over this hump. However, make sure they admit that they’re cooperating of their own free will otherwise, you could be hit with a harassment suit. (Yes, that’s the kind of world we live in now.)

3. Office Politics

No, we don’t mean the kind where two people jockey for the same promotion (although, that can be awkward, too). We’re talking about when an employee uses the workplace as a pulpit to stump for his favorite political party, cause, or candidate, to the point everyone at the office wants to staple his mouth shut. Hey buddy, just because you’d spend your last dime saving the endangered spotted, wide-mouthed, seersucker, horned buck beetle, doesn’t mean everyone else shares your commitment. Similarly, if you’ve just found God, quit drinking, or joined a cult, we don’t necessarily want to ride along with you.

When faced with someone who oppressively tries to convert you, simply be honest and tell him, thanks for sharing, but I got my own thing going. If he continues, give him one more warning, but then after that ask Human Resources (or your boss) to make him stop. On the other hand, if you really do enjoy the debate, then suggest you save it for break times or a happy hour after work.

4. Wedding Bell Blues

A co-worker is planning her wedding and the next thing you know you’re enlisted to give an opinion on fabric swatches for the bridesmaid gowns; sushi versus prime rib for the reception; and if you think it’s appropriate to have a dog be the ring bearer. The problem is you really don’t give a rat’s tail if her bridesmaids dance down the aisle naked slinging raw fish to a pack of wolves. Heck, you’re not even going to the wedding, so how annoying is it that she wastes your work time soliciting your opinion?

Politely tell the bride-to-be you’re extremely happy about her impending nuptials, but unfortunately you’re behind so you really need to hunker down and work uninterrupted. If you just can’t bear to metaphorically slam the door in her face, suggest that she save all her questions up to discuss ONE TIME during the day (possibly at lunch or after work).

Either that or just offer such outlandish, garish opinions that she quits coming to you because she finally realizes you’re nothing but a tasteless goober.

5. Sour Grapes

So someone at the office is fired or laid off and suddenly his remaining posse grouses about what a crappy place this is to work. Common sense tells you that if one guy was laid off, then they might be looking for others to let go. Don’t give them a reason to can you by getting caught badmouthing the company. Whether you agree with the lay-off or not, keep your opinions to yourself. That said you don’t want to be unsupportive of your co-workers, so if you agree that the guy they let go got a bum deal, discuss the matter outside of work. Otherwise, tell the clucking hens that you really don’t think it’s appropriate to be dissing the company on company time. (Save it for happy hour.)

Regardless of the awkward circumstance (and believe me, there are many more besides these), it usually gets worse if you ignore it. The best thing to do when an awkward office situation rears its ugly head is to proactively stand up to it. The longer you pretend everything is okay, the more things are likely to come to a point where the damage is irreparable.

One comment on “5 Awkward Workplace Situations (And How to Deal With Them)

  • Don’t forget using humor. It can defuse a lot of situations:

    “I’m sorry, did I look like I cared about the difference between ecru and eggshell?”

    “Yeah, I think she’s a #@%$* too, and I’m starting to not like you so much either.”

    “I would love to join your (religion, political party, corduroy-worshipping cult) but due to a tragic childhood accident, the part of my brain that cares about that is missing.”

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