Every office is really just a group of people. And people can be awkward.
Which means that, over the course of your working life, you’re bound to encounter a bunch of squirmy situations.
Business Insider rounded up 10 of those situations and consulted workplace experts on how to navigate them smoothly. Read on to find out exactly what to say when you find yourself wanting to crawl under your desk and disappear.
The awkward situation: You plan to ask for a promotion
What to say: “I’ve been thinking about my career and I’ve been thinking about what the next steps are. I’d love to have a conversation with you about that. What are your thoughts?”
JetBlue chairman Joel Peterson, author of “The 10 Laws of Trust: Building the Bonds That Make a Business Great,” told Business Insider’s Eames Yates that the sentences above make for an elegant request. Assuming you have the stellar performance to back it up, your boss will probably be open to hearing about your ambitions.
The awkward situation: Your boss won’t give you the raise you asked for
What to say: “How can I be guaranteed to be involved in projects that are critical to the future of the company?”
That’s according to Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator and the author of “Never Split the Difference.” Voss suggested that it’s best to take a step back in a salary negotiation and think about what you’re really trying to accomplish here: building your career.
This question can also make you look like a team player right off the bat. By asking to be involved in big company projects, you stand out among a sea of people demanding more for themselves.
The awkward situation: You’ve received a poor performance review
What to say: “Obviously this is really hard to hear, but I understand what you’re saying and I appreciate you being candid with me. Let’s talk about what I can do differently.”
Melissa Greenwell, executive vice president and chief operating officer of The Finish Line, Inc., told Business Insider’s Abby Jackson that your initial impulse might be to fact back against the negative feedback. But that kind of behaviour can suggest to your boss that you’re not interested in learning from your mistakes.
The awkward situation: You’re giving an employee negative feedback
What to say: “I have some suggestions around something you can do in the future to be more successful.”
Greenwell told Jackson that it’s important to use “feed forward” instead of traditional feedback. That way, employees won’t get defensive about the mistakes they think they didn’t make during the past year.
The awkward situation: You’re firing an employee
What to say: “We recognise that you were instrumental in assisting your department with [whatever project]. However, for the last year we’ve attempted to work with you on [whatever skill]. We’ve decided to terminate your employment effective [whenever].”
Rosalinda Oropeza Randall, an etiquette and civility expert and the author of “Don’t Burp in the Boardroom,” cautioned that you’ll definitely need to talk to your company’s human resources department before letting anyone go. They can tell you the specific language you’ll need to use.
For example, if there’s a chance that the person being fired might take legal action against the company, your HR department might advise you not to start off with something positive, since they can use that against you. Otherwise, Randall said you can probably acknowledge one positive contribution they made.
In closing, you should end on a positive note: “We wish you well and thank you for your service to the company.”
The awkward situation: You’re getting fired
What to say: “Can I have a moment to process this?”
Even though you might be angry and upset, you don’t want to lash out and say something you’ll later regret.
As Michael Kerr, an international business speaker and author of “The Humour Advantage” previously told Business Insider: “Take a deep breath and even ask for a few moments if you need to collect your thoughts and rein in your emotions.” Most importantly, “The key is to remain professional and not burn any bridges.”
Then you can move on to asking for an explanation, asking for a second chance, or asking for candid feedback.
The awkward situation: You’re stuck in the elevator with your CEO
What to say: Introduce yourself if you haven’t met your CEO personally. Then say: “By the way, thank you. That [company party] was a great idea. It’s my first year here and I’ve never worked at a company that was so generous.”
The idea here is to talk about something timely and relevant to the company, Randall said. So if you bump into your CEO right after the holidays, feel free to mention the recent holiday party.
Likewise, if you heard they were travelling recently, ask about their trip.
If you don’t know much about company news (or can’t think of anything on the spot), Randall said it’s fine to stay more general and ask your boss how their holidays were.
One note of caution: If you start a conversation with your boss and notice that they give a curt response or look down at their phone, take the hint and be quiet for the rest of the ride.
The awkward situation: You want to ask your coworker to quiet down
What to say: “You know, I have never been able to concentrate unless it’s totally silent. And I know that’s unrealistic … but can I ask you, for the next couple hours, I’m working on this project, would you keep it down for me? I’d really appreciate it.”
Then, after those couple hours have passed, come back and thank them. The idea is to soften the request.
Randall said it’s important not to talk to your coworker like you would talk to a child: “Hey, could you keep it down over there?” Sometimes that makes people feel challenged.
This is also an opportunity for you to say, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to make our open space quarters more pleasant for you.”
Whatever you say, try to do it in private. If you’re in an open office, whatever you say may be overheard by the rest of the staff and might embarrass the offending coworker.
The awkward situation: You’ve been asked whether you have kids in a job interview
What to say: “That’s an interesting question, but maybe you can help me understand why it might be important. I guess I’ve never been asked that before, but I want to know what matters in this position.”
This question might seem innocuous, but it’s inappropriate in a job interview. As Business Insider has previously reported, it’s illegal to deny someone a job if they have or are planning to have children.
Of course, you don’t know what the interviewer’s motives are in this situation. This response, from Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behaviour and Thrive in Your Job,” will help you find out — and learn more about the place where you might be working.
The awkward situation: You’ve been asked where else you’re interviewing for a job
What to say: “I’m interviewing at various companies at various stages, but this opportunity is particularly exciting for me because of XYZ.”
According to Taylor, the way you handle this question will show the interviewer how you generally deal with sensitive information.
At the same time, Taylor said this question is a great opportunity to demonstrate your excitement about the position. Plus it lets you re-route the conversation back to your qualifications and fit for the job.
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