We’ve all been there – those embarrassing moments when you know you’ve done something awkward or you’re stuck in an awkward silence moment with a coworker you really don’t know well. The natural human reaction in these situations tends to be panic. It’s a stressful situation that’s difficult to recover from.
But honestly, we’ve all been there. Remember that, and sympathize with whoever it is you see next that gets caught in an embarrassing work situation. Here are some of the most common uncomfortable scenarios – plus some tips on getting out of them gracefully.
You Fall In Front Of A Superior
Scenario: You’re walking with your boss through the office, having a conversation about the work that you are doing and how you are progressing. You chose your pencil skirt today with a pair of dressy stilettos or guys, you chose your best pair of slacks and some dress shoes that are just a bit too big.
Suddenly, you trip on something and fall face first to the ground. Girls, your skirt might have gone up just a little too high – guys, your shoes might have come off altogether to reveal your mismatched socks. Your boss looks shocked.
Solution: Have a laugh. Seriously, laughing at yourself will just say to your boss that you don’t take the little things too seriously. Crack a little joke (don’t go over the top), stand yourself up, brush yourself off, apologize to your boss for interrupting your conversation and carry on right where you left off, as if nothing happened. Bottom line: don’t let it bug you.
Your Superior Has Food In Their Teeth
Scenario: You walk into your boss’ office to say you’re ready for the big meeting that’s coming up in 10 minutes to find him or her finishing up with lunch. He looks at you, says he’ll be ready in just a moment and that he’ll come and get you at your desk when he is ready.
When he comes over, you notice that there’s a little leftover lunch stuck between his teeth. It’s blatantly obvious, and your boss has no idea, and he just won’t stop talking regardless.
Solution: Eventually, your boss has to pause with whatever he is saying to take a breath – use that as an opportunity to politely say, “Excuse me, but I think you might have a little something in your teeth – I just don’t want you to go into the meeting without anyone saying anything.”
Your boss will likely appreciate and value the honesty, and he will certainly be thankful that you saved him from the humility of speaking in front of a large, important group with something stuck in his teeth.
You Over-Hear A Private Conversation
Scenario: You need to speak to your boss about something, but when you go over to his office, you hear that he is on the phone with someone. You catch a piece of the conversation that is very intriguing to you – either he’s talking about you and you heard your name mentioned, or you heard some other bit of juicy information that you can’t help but want more of.
So you stand outside the office for a moment to see what else you can hear. You know you shouldn’t be there, but again, you just can’t help yourself. When you come to and realize you really don’t belong there, you walk away, but you just heard some information that’s going to be tough to keep to yourself.
Solution: So while this one isn’t so embarrassing as it is awkward, it’s still a very common situation that can be tough to handle. The simplest solution is to keep all of it to yourself.
The truth is, it’s difficult to keep a secret, especially a good one. But no one likes the office gossip, which you certainly do not want to be termed, and there’s no way you can tell your boss that you overheard his conversation. The best thing to do here is to keep all of the information to yourself, no matter how difficult it is, until your boss decides that it’s time to make it public, if that time ever comes.
If your boss never tells anyone or says anything regarding the subject, let it go. It’s not your information to share.
Your Co-Worker Has Bad Breath
Scenario: For the most part, you like everyone you work with. You’re not exactly friends, though, per se, and there are still some things that are uncomfortable to talk about with your co-workers.
You’re in the break room about to delve into the awesome sandwich you brought for lunch when one of your co-workers leans over your shoulder to tell you something. His breath makes it hard to continue eating the lunch that you were so looking forward to, but you don’t quite know him well enough to insult him by saying he could use a piece of gum or a breath mint.
Solution: There are 2 ways you could go about discreetly informing your co-worker that their breath stinks. When you’ve finished your lunch (if you can muster at this point), if the person is still in the break room with you, pull out a pack of gum, pop a piece yourself and offer a piece to the other person. Hopefully they will take you up on the offer and your worries will be gone for the day.
Otherwise, here’s a sneakier way. There’s a website called “The Stench Informer” that allows you to send an anonymous email to someone who could use a bit of extra personal hygiene.
Even though it will get to the person anonymously, be considerate when you approach this topic. You never know who might be on some sort of medication that makes their breath smell bad or how sensitive the person might be to criticism. Show some sympathy and just offer a friendly anonymous suggestion to invest in some gum or a tin of breath mints.
You Accidentally Hit “Reply All”
Scenario: Your boss sends out a company email to the whole staff regarding a recent issue with a fellow co-worker. Your boss had to let the person go.
Your good friend works in the same company as you, and received this same email. You want to throw in your two cents on the person who was let go, and you can’t help but wonder who’s going to get that empty corner office with the view. You want to send a message to your friend and your friend only.
You write some mean little comment about the person who was just fired, give your detailed opinion of why you think you should have the empty office, and you send it off. It’s only then that you realize you accidentally hit the “Reply All” button instead of just sending it to the one person, and the whole company just got your mean little email.
Solution: This is a toughie. It’s probably one of the biggest mistakes you could make at work and your stomach probably flies up to your throat the second you realize that your private message just went out to everyone, including your boss.
Here’s what you can do – first, as quickly as you can, send an apology email to the entire staff of the company. Explain that you were simply having a “mean moment” and accidentally shared the wrong message with a few too many people. Go on to say that you respected the work that so and so did while they were here (even if you didn’t) and explain that they will be missed (even if you won’t miss them.)
The next step is to approach your boss or your superior directly. A face-to-face apology is ten times better than an email one. Wait for a good time to talk to your boss, and simply explain that you made a mistake and go on to apologize for it. Explain that you know it was wrong to say and that you feel bad for saying it (even if you don’t).
Beware: the next few days will probably be kind of awkward. But eventually, it will all be over and everyone will move on with their lives and with their work and forget all about the nasty little email you sent that one time.