Work Relationships

How to Handle Awkward Situations at Work

Written by Peter Jones

It’s always nice to get as friendly as you can with the people you’ll spend so much of your waking adult life working alongside. But building personal relationships at work can create a few sticky situations. Here are a few of them, and what to do when you find yourself in trouble.

1. When You Get Promoted and Your Coworker Doesn’t

You get one, your friend in the same position doesn’t. Now there’s resentment and a new power dynamic to negotiate. You can’t share your work drama with the same abandon anymore, because you’re in different roles. The kind of belly-aching you’re accustomed to is no longer appropriate. Also be prepared to withstand some initial resentment.

Either way, it’s best to talk about it once out in the open. Be proactive. Address the aspects of your relationship that have to change according to your work functions, but emphasize what aspects of your friendship do not have to change. Check in, be humble, and be honest. It’ll help you both navigate the new situation if you’re still on the same page and can express some solidarity.

2. When You Become Friends With Your Boss

You and your boss have become close outside of work. You get in a fight. It makes things… awkward at the office. This is normal. All friends fight. The only tricky bit is not compromising either of your jobs. Keep things civil and professional, and try not to be too defensive. If it’s a minor thing, take a bit of distance, cool off, then send an olive branch email to smooth it over. If it’s major, make it clear that it will not impact your daily office routines, but make a plan to chat outside the office after work.

3. When You want Skip Out on a Social Event

Your coworker wants you to double date! Fun, right!? But you don’t want to. That’s totally fine. You’re under no obligation to do so. Trouble is, turning it down can be a little tricky. You’ll want to be as firm as possible, without being mean. When in doubt, try to downshift. Say you’re super busy and would prefer to have some one-on-one time, maybe coffee or lunch! Eventually, she’ll get the hint.

4. When You’re Fighting With Your Coworker

This is the same as fighting with your boss, just that the stakes are slightly lower. Though you also have the potential to damage the other’s reputation in the office. Be careful not let the fight spill over into the work day and make either of you act unprofessionally. Otherwise, the same rules apply.

5.When You Don’t Want to Make Friends With Everyone

You’re close with a couple of your coworkers, but not another. You’re under no obligation to let this other coworker into your clique. People have the right to chose their friends and you are not required to be friends with people just because you work together. But do be sensitive to the feelings of the person you are not including. Avoid talking about all the fun stuff you and your pals are going to do in front of this other coworker. It’s the kind way to behave.

6. When You Don’t Fit in at Work

If you’re the one on the outside of the cool kids clique at work, don’t worry. It doesn’t say anything about you necessarily. And you certainly shouldn’t take it personally. Be warm and civil with your coworkers, and then divert your friendship-forging attention elsewhere. Make sure you maintain an active and fulfilling social life outside of the office so you don’t get discouraged by not being part of the crowd. The upside here is that you’ll focus more on your work and not be as easily distracted by office banter.

7. When You Overhear Hurtful Gossip

You overhear your coworkers talking about you behind your back. Resist the temptation to throttle them. You don’t have to confront them, but you shouldn’t hide and pretend you didn’t hear either. Take time to cool off and give them the space to do the adult thing and apologize. If they don’t, they’re probably not worth talking to.

8. When Your Coworkers are Mooching Off of You

Are you always paying for the coffee trip? The happy hour round? Rather than quietly resenting this state of affairs, give your coworkers the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to set things right. Try saying, “Hey, you mind grabbing this round? I got the last few.” Or something equally casual. It’s awkward the first couple of times, but you’ll be glad you got better at asking. It’s better than slowly going broke!

About the author

Peter Jones