Now and then, we all face some uncomfortable situations at work. Whether it be strong smells, overly talkative co-workers, inappropriate clothes, etc., it can be difficult to confront the offending behaviour. Here are some tips on how to handle some of the more common situations.

How to Handle Uncomfortable Situations at Work

By Alison Green

Whether it’s a stinky coworker or an inappropriately dressed assistant, you’re guaranteed to run into some awkward circumstances at work from time to time. Here are five of the most uncomfortable, and some advice on how to handle them.

1. Your coworker slacks off constantly, while you’re hard at work. The solution: Try to ignore it. Sure, it’s possible your boss is letting your colleague get away with this behavior, but it’s also possible that you don’t realize your boss is addressing it behind the scenes. Either way, the answer for you is the same: If it’s not affecting your work, it’s not your business. If it does affect your ability to do your job—because you have to take on extra work, or because you’re dependent on your coworker to help you do your own job—then raise it with your boss from that perspective, keeping the focus on how it affects your productivity.

Of course, if you’re the slacker’s manager, then you need to address it forthrightly.

2. Your assistant’s outfits reveal far more of her than you’re comfortable seeing. The solution: Couch the discussion in terms of dress code and professional image. Say something like, “Jane, you’re a great employee and I feel a bit awkward about bringing this up, but some of your blouses are more revealing than you might realize. You’re very professional otherwise and I don’t want this to impact people’s perceptions of you. I’d like to ask that you raise the neckline on your blouses.”

Have this conversation at the end of the day, so that she doesn’t have to spend the rest of the day feeling self-conscious about what she’s wearing.

3. Your coworker’s strong perfume makes your throat close up whenever she’s near. The solution: Make the problem about you, not about her. Say something like, “Karen, I love your perfume. But I’m allergic to some perfumes and have some respiratory issues when I’m around strong ones. It’s lovely, but do you think you could wear less of it while at work?”

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