Awkward Work Situations: How to Handle Them With Style
Every workplace has its own peculiar holiday customs
People asking for money
Whether it's to support their favorite charity or for a gift for the boss or a co-worker, it can be uncomfortable to tell someone you don't want to support his or her cause or pay for a gift for someone you don't even like. How you respond will depend on the situation. If it's a gift for the boss or a colleague, you may be best off giving something than taking a stand and being labeled uncooperative. However, you can always say you are taking care of your own gift, or, in the case of a charity, explain that you've already maxed out your quarterly charitable contributions.
Whether a co-worker gives you a gift and you don't have one in return, or you're deciding if you should buy the boss a gift, the gift-giving season can be awkward. While you shouldn't feel obligated to give anyone a gift, it's a good idea to identify the workplace rituals before it's too late if you want to give a good impression. If everyone exchanges presents, you may want to just go along and avoid discomfort. If you have financial issues, give something homemade or thoughtful that isn't expensive. If you feel strongly and don't want to participate for religious reasons simply explain why you aren't able to participate.
Colleagues asking you to support their kids' fundraisers
In many companies, it is actually against policy to ask co-workers to purchase items, especially if it is a supervisor asking an employee. However, if you don't want to pull the, "it's wrong of you to even ask me" excuse, you can still easily beg off by saying that you "already got your share of (wrapping paper, cookie dough or other trinket) from the neighbor's kid."
Conversations about salaries or bonuses
If your company gives holiday bonuses or raises at this time of year, it can be awkward to answer a colleague's question about what you received. Whether it's because you think you may have earned more or less, it can be a difficult conversation either way. If you're not comfortable discussing it, you can always demur and say you've found it's a good policy not to discuss money with colleagues and leave it at that.
It's not bad enough that you have to spend all day with colleagues who have gross habits. At this time of year, they expect you to prepare to enjoy evenings socializing with them, too. Even if your colleagues aren't your favorite people, it's still a good idea to extend yourself and join in the fun – even if it isn't that much fun for you. Make a point to limit or avoid alcohol consumption and keep the conversations casual and pleasant. You never know, an office party may provide an introduction to someone you've been wanting to meet; never ignore the networking potential.
For the non-religious or those in minority religions, saying grace before work events can be very awkward. Usually, your best bet is to be respectful, but don't feel compelled to bow your head or say "amen" if you don't want to participate.
Share your own stories of awkward work moments and how you handled them in the comments section below.
More from Miriam Salpeter
Things HR won't tell you
Secrets to a slam dunk interview
Signs you're in a dead-end job
Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Business Success, Social Networking for Career Success and 100 Conversations for Career Success. Miriam teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to empower their success. Get her free white paper: 5 Mistakes Job Seekers Make and How to Avoid Them.