We’ve all been there in one way or another, and if not yet, your time will eventually come. What to do when there’s something going on in the workplace that’s rather uncomfortable to bring up? Whether it’s a co-worker’s case of BO, an overbearing cubicle neighbor, an illicit office romance, or some other awkward situation, there’s always a manner in which to delicately and diplomatically deal with the offense.
Here, two experts weigh in on some of the more common workplace scenarios that can inevitably lead to those dreaded uncomfortable conversations. Their tried and true advice will help make the discussion productive and less intimidating.
Officemate Odors – Sniff Out the Best Approach
There may be someone in the office with a funky body odor or who is a little heavy handed with the eau de parfum. This person may not be even aware of his or her pungent aroma, but that doesn’t mean others should suffer in silence.
Doris Young Boyer, etiquette and protocol coach, recommends protecting the offending person’s feelings as much as possible. “If you are aware of the problem, so is most of your department. Discussing the issues among yourselves is to be avoided; instead, discuss the issue with the HR department. They are best equipped to handle the situation.”
If you choose to confront the person yourself, career coach Hallie Crawford suggests being frank: “Take your co-worker aside and let him know how much you appreciate his work, or share something that you admire about him. It will make the next part of the conversation easier to swallow. Kindly explain that either his cologne is too strong for the work environment or that you have recently noticed a strong body odor. Think of a solution and prepare a few suggestions: body spray vs. cologne, body towelettes, or a strong sport deodorant.”
TMI! Isn’t That a Little Personal?
When people spend as much time together as co-workers do, sometimes the line between what’s appropriate to share in the office and topics best discussed over coffee with friends becomes blurred. When it comes to personal matters in the workplace, what’s OK?
Crawford reminds that everyone communicates differently, so what may be over-sharing to you could be completely normal to someone else. “Remember that everyone should be able to feel like themselves at work and sharing some personal information is a way to build relationships with your coworkers.” Of course, it’s generally the best policy to avoid topics of politics, religion, and morality she reminds. “And steer clear of off-color jokes. If you are in a conversation that heads in one of those directions, simply try to change the subject.”
Cubicle Conundrum – I Can Hear You!
In a workplace where employees are designated to cubicles, the behaviors of others, particularly the noise they generate, can range from distracting to downright disturbing. Young Boyer suggests that the co-worker may not know just how intrusive they are.
“Voices carry in cubicle settings. Let your co-worker know that her voice carries and interferes with your work. She may not know. I believe we can often end problems very quickly by communicating with others.”
Crawford agrees: “Try approaching your co-worker and let her know how her loud phone calls or music affect you. Avoid an accusatory tone or expressions such as, ‘you always do this.’ Let her know how her habits make you feel. ‘When you play your loud music, I find that it’s hard for me to concentrate,’ or, ‘When you speak loudly on the phone, I feel that I can’t make calls to clients.’ It will be easier to come to an agreement about the issue.” Before going to HR, ask yourself if your co-worker is bothering everyone, or just you, suggests Crawford. “Perhaps you can make personal adjustments if she is only disrupting your work, such as making your phone calls at a different time of the day.”
Co-Worker Canoodling: Love It, or Leave It?
Lots of workplaces have rules that prohibit inter-office romances. What to do if you learn about a fling in the files or a coupling in the conference room?
“This is a tough situation because it depends on your relationship with the people involved in the relationship,” advises Crawford. “You need to be 100 percent sure there actually is an office romance before you report it, and then decide if you want to be the person to report it or not.” If you feel it is interfering with a co-worker’s performance with you and/or your team, many believe that’s an absolute HR-alert must. Of course, it depends on who you ask; Boyer has different advice: “I recommend you look the other way. These are adults.” Uncomfortable conversation averted!
When it comes to the workplace, not everything will be smooth sailing, but open communication and honesty is always the best policy… otherwise, HR has got your back. Turn uncomfortable conversations into something productive so everyone can work together in harmony.
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