September 24, 2012

4 Ways to Resolve Awkward Office Confrontations

Lazy man at the office with a computerIt’s 8am. As you make your way into the office, you smile and greet a few other co-workers. You head to the break room for your usual morning cup of coffee, a dash of cream and two packets of sugar. As you walk back to your desk, your paths cross. It’s her. The one co-worker you try to avoid. You offer a fake smile and quickly rush to your desk before she can start a conversation. As you sip your coffee, you wonder when you’ll get the nerve to finally tell her.

We all know about the elephant in the room and, for some of us, in the workplace there can be more than one: that co-worker (or even supervisor) whose bad habits and actions negatively affect the work environment. Everyone sees it; the issue is obvious. Yet, like the metaphor, many people keep quiet in attempt to avoid an uncomfortable situation. But what do you do when the problem escalates out of control?

Below are four different methods for confronting a co-worker or employee in common office situations:

1. Bad hygiene

Bad smells are unpleasant, but trying to explain this issue to the person omitting them can be even worse. Every now and then people have the occasional bad breath after a lunch filled with garlic or onions, this is understandable. Yet, smelly armpits, feet and repulsive body odors in general are not so forgivable. Have a stinky co-worker? Instead of outright telling the individual he or she stinks—and running the risk of offending the person—try an indirect approach. Talk to him or her about a new body wash, cologne or perfume you bought and how you’re recommending it to everyone because you enjoy it so much. Team up with your colleagues collecting toiletries and small food items into a gift basket and present it to your co-worker. Tell him or her all of you started a new initiative to “show appreciation” once a month to a co-worker (if you do this you may have to keep it going for awhile).

2. Visiting inappropriate websites

Many companies have IT departments that filter websites and monitor internet activity, but not all. If you know a colleague regularly visits inappropriate websites, have a casual conversation with him or her. Instead of revealing that you know what he or she has been doing, create a ‘John Doe scenario.’ A friend of a friend got caught looking at inappropriate websites at work and was seriously reprimanded. Remind your co-worker that although the “acquaintance” thought he/she was covering his/her tracks, the internet is public and someone can always be watching.

3. Personal phone calls

Every now and then, workers make personal calls while on the clock. What about the person that does this for hours each day? Or has family and friends constantly calling the office looking for them? Have you ever heard of an employee having an individual call him or her collect from jail? I have. In these types of situations, it’s best to speak with the person as soon as you notice it’s a problem. Sometimes workers find it easier to talk with colleagues versus superiors. As a concerned friend, warn your colleague of the consequences he or she could face from abusing the work phone. Remind the person how important his or her role in the department is and how others depend on him/her to uphold the integrity of the team, just as other members do.

4. Abusing clock time and falsifying time sheets

Coming in late, leaving early and taking extended lunch breaks: These are all forms of abuse when it comes to work hours. Not recording these instances on a time-sheet is also wrong. Managers can send out mass emails urging staff to review the employee handbook for procedures on recording hours and consequences of falsifying time sheets. If you’re an employee and know a co-worker who regularly does this, ask your supervisor if he or she can add the issue to the team meeting agenda to be reviewed. You can also do this for issues one through three to make the employee aware of his or her inappropriate actions without singling him/her out.

Read more in Business Communication

Marks’ stories have also been published in a variety of newspaper, magazine and online formats including The Arizona Republic, The Daily Herald, Arizona Foothills Magazine and various classroom magazines of Scholastic Inc. Service is her passion, writing is her platform and uplifting and inspiring the community is her purpose. Marks received a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication from Arizona State University.
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