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How to handle uncomfortable situations at work

How do you tell your boss, that he has something stuck between his teeth? What are topics for breaking the silence in the elevator? StepStone tells you how to handle those and other uncomfortable situations in the office.

On the road with the boss
A business trip with the boss can become very unpleasant. It may happen that you'll be running out of topics after the aircraft has just taken off and the whole trip is going to be very long. Tip: Ask your boss if it is okay for him if you read a book.
When your boss asks you to join him for dinner you should not refuse. But you will not have to stay longer than necessary. You can leave shortly after the main dish by alluding to the early business appointment the next morning.

Meeting the colleague in the elevator
Some people prefer the stairs in order to avoid an unpleasantly silent ride in the elevator. Here are some good topics for those who do not take the stairs: Talk about the weather, plans for the weekend or the traffic situation on your way to the office. These are trivial topics but they always fit for a small talk. The bottom line is not what you are talking about. Your conversation partners will appreciate your effort to break the unpleasant silence, no matter how trivial the conversation actually is.

Lunch with your boss

Some HR recruiters invite their candidates to a job interview at lunch in order to test their manners before they hire them. Keep that in mind when you are out for lunch with your boss the next time. [on the German website we have a link to an article concerning the most important rules for a business lunch.

Stuck: Broccoli between the teeth of your boss
Back in the office you notice a piece of broccoli between the teeth of your boss. Tip: Just give him a discreet hint but do not let him know you feel uncomfortable with the situation. That would give him the impression there is really something to be embarrassed about. Your boss will appreciate your help and be glad that he won't have to talk to five more people until he finally gets the hint.

Accidentally meet the boss in your free time
You meet the boss outside of work. No matter how good or tense your relationship is - there is no need to become nervous. Tip: Do not talk about business. The best topic is your surroundings. For example if you meet in the cinema, talk about the movie. If you have your partner with you, do not forget to introduce him or her. After a short small talk you can leave - and will additionally have a good topic for a conversation when you meet in the office the next time.

Meeting the boss in the restroom
A very tricky scenario for most people. Tip: do not shake hands. If he reaches his hand first, take it if it is not too uncomfortable for you. In case the restroom has separated booths you are lucky. If there are only urinals instead, try to leave out one place between you and your boss in order to demonstrate not too much distance or closeness.
New in the team?
Here are the most important rules:

  • Be friendly
  • Introduce yourself to everybody
  • If possible join your colleagues during lunch. As long as you show interest you will have enough stuff for conversations.

New in the team and invited to the company party
When you are new in the team you might feel silly at company parties initially. In most companies there are unofficial teams talking about their own topics who gather in groups on company parties. New in the team or not - you are now part of the group. Take the chance to get to know your new colleagues in a private atmosphere and to introduce yourself to people from other departments. This is exactly what company parties are for. Do not wait for the others to take the first step.
Tip: The smaller the group the more likely people talk about personal things. Therefore it is easier to take part in a conversation within one of the larger groups.

Conducting salary negotiations
Most people feel uncomfortable when it comes to negotiating over their salary. The most important factor is proper preparation. You have to be able to answer one central question: What are the arguments for a higher salary? Actually there is only one: performance. Did your performance increase over the last months? Did you successfully complete a project on the job? Did you acquire new customers? Simply show concrete results. By that you will not only show the boss what your performance is worth for the company but will you also have in mind that your request for a higher salary is absolutely justified.

Bereavement in your colleague's family
It is hard to express compassion when a close friend loses a member of his closer family. It is even harder to find the right words when there is a bereavement in your colleague's family. It is rather uncomfortable to embrace a colleague when your relationship is not really close. But: When gestures of compassion drop out there are only words. Most people are afraid to say the wrong thing. When the colleague returns after a short time off nobody knows what to say. Tip: Wait and see if your colleague shows the need to talk. In that case you should offer him to listen. Depending on how good your relationship is you can also make the first step and offer him your condolences.

© 2010

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