How to Handle Awkward Situations at Work


They will happen. You know it, we know it. When working with a diverse group of people in any situation, awkward situations are bound to happen. We’re all human after all. It’s not bad that it happens, it’s normal. But how you handle it can make all the difference moving forward.

The key here is, actually, to move forward. Acknowledge the situation in a simple, straightforward way, then move on. Dwelling on awkwardness at work usually will make the situation worse but acknowledging and moving forward will make you appear mature and level-headed. There are so many scenarios that could present themselves as being awkward in the workplace, but always keep perspective when in the moment.

Always be honest about the work you did or didn’t do. If you’re getting credit for another’s work, speak up and give credit where credit is due. A simple “Thank you for the kind words but Jon was the force behind this project” will suffice and sum up the situation. There’s no need to go on and on, but your coworker will appreciate you and your team will respect you. It also makes you look like a leader because you’re not afraid to give someone else a compliment.

Now what about if the reverse happens? You can always make a quick joke if someone takes credit for your work, or in the moment, say something like “It was definitely a team effort.” Or, if you have one-on-one meetings with your boss, be sure to do a post-op on the project, explaining your role and how you feel the goals were met. It will make you look like you’re being thorough while also eliminating any doubt that you contributed.

On a much more lighthearted note, when faced with making small talk, some of us are better than others. If you’re in a situation where you have to make small talk or a coworker keeps talking and you aren’t sure what to say, rely on old standards. The weather, sports, travel plans, those topics are always easy conversation starters. And they’re classics for a reason – everyone can relate to a thunderstorm or your city’s favorite sports team winning the game last night.

The possibilities of something awkward happening at work are endless. Especially when you’re a new employee or manager, and just learning the ropes. Be light on your feet, so to speak, and be transparent. You’ll get through these moments and be better for it.