Business Magazine

Five Ways to Conquer an Awkward Situation in Business and in Life

Posted on the 06 December 2013 by Stacie Walker Stacie @staciewalker

Awkward situations are inevitable when working and spending time with other people. But how you handle them can determine someone else’s impression of you, whether it’s an accurate impression or not. To avoid future awkwardness, and those accompanying uncomfortable silent moments, have these five tactics in your back pocket.

Have an Excuse Handy
Some back-up excuses are good to have, but before you use them, be polite. Don’t excuse yourself immediately after meeting someone. Rather, give them a few minutes of your time first.

Then, at a party, feel free to excuse yourself; you can say you need to go help the hostess, or simply say you’re going to step away to grab some food or drink. At work, after meeting a chatty new co-worker, simply say that you have a project deadline in order to step away.

Change Topics
Sometimes it’s not so easy to just walk away, even if you don’t like the topic being discussed. Whether it’s your boss or your grandfather sharing a story you’ve heard not once but 10 times before, be patient and wait for the right moment to change the topic of conversation.

But what if conversation is going along smoothly — and then you’re asked something you don’t know how to answer? This can be a particularly awkward conversation at work, but there are ways of sidestepping the question. For one, if you feel comfortable saying so, admit that you don’t know the answer but that you’ll look into it. Another tactic is to redirect the question. Tell the asker that their question is a good one, but a more important question is something else, and then answer the question you’ve asked yourself.

Don’t Get Argumentative
If someone is venting about a controversial topic, wait it out. If you try to argue, they’ll tend to get even more argumentative as they attempt to convince you that they’re right and you’re wrong. One possible tactic to take is to try broaching a more neutral topic and then excusing yourself from the room.

But sometimes you should speak up, especially if the topic is particularly offensive. In this case it’s perfectly acceptable for you to stop the conversation right there and then, and be honest about how the topic makes you feel. Perhaps even redirect the conversation to a more neutral topic, particularly with someone in the room who is also clearly uneasy about the controversial topic as well.


Apologize for Email Mistakes
Technology may make work and life easier when it comes to communication, but it can also bring added complications into both your professional and personal life… like that time you accidentally hit reply all and said some not-so-kind words about a fellow coworker or friend.

The best thing you can do in this situation is own up to your mistake, according to the advice of Russ Brown, a lawyer who encounters several awkward situations a month. Apologize, listen to what the offended person has to say, and then ask them what you can do to help everyone involved get past this issue and move forward in your relationship.

And before you hit send next time? Be extra careful about your word choice, and who is listed in the “to” field.

Don’t Feel Obligated
Gift giving and fundraisers in the office can make for particularly awkward moments. While it might be easiest to toss in a few bucks for a gift for a boss sometimes, it’s also very reasonable to say that you’d prefer not to participate. To say this with grace, and to keep a good impression, perhaps say that you’ve already bought a gift, or that you’re maxed out on your quarterly charitable contribution already. When it comes to fundraisers, whether they’re from the kids of your co-workers or friend’s, they aren’t the only kids you know. A simple way to respond to a fundraising request is to say that you’re all stocked up on wrapping paper or Girl Scout cookies already. Your friends and co-workers will understand.


What do all these tactics have in common? Overcoming awkward moments is all about being sensitive, patient and discreet to avoid hurt feelings. Find that balance and you’ll be a pro both in business and in life.

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