How to deal with embarrassing situations at work

We all understand that nobody’s perfect, everybody makes mistakes and sometimes embarrassing situations happen. When we’re among friends or family, this isn’t the worst thing to occur. However, if an embarrassing situation arises at work, whether you’re witnessing it or it’s happening to you, there may be the sudden urge to go hide under a rock till things blow over and co-workers stop bringing it up.
But before you take up residence under the nearest stone, learn some coping methods for the next time you find yourself flushing over an embarrassing situation at work or are the one to deal with a co-worker’s embarrassment.
If you’re the one who’s embarrassed…
Acknowledge the mistake with a joke. Craig Griffiths, founder of Ask Find Buy, says, “If I am embarrassed, I raise the issue acknowledging my embarrassment so we can all have a laugh and move on. Once I attended the wrong meeting. I was supposed to be attending a community funding group, but accidentally wound up at a lesbian group meeting discussing other community issues. Each person introduced themselves before it finally got to me. I just said ‘Hi, I am Craig, I am in the wrong meeting, but I can take the minutes.’ All the women laughed their heads off. As long as there is no negative impact, having a laugh and moving on is good.”
Deal with the situation. Ignoring an uncomfortable circumstance at work will only hold the embarrassment over your head. Vivian Scott, author of “Conflict Resolution at Work for Dummies,” says, “Not wanting to deal with an embarrassing situation can make matters worse! My advice is to own it, make apologies, and/or laugh about it. Years ago I responded to an email my manager had sent about wanting us to work more with an individual outside our group. I replied with a scathing account of my experiences with the person, only to find out she was also included in the email and received my response. I decided to own it right then and there and walked to her office for a chat. Instead of sugarcoating it, I apologized for not bringing issues to her attention sooner. The two of us worked through how we could more effectively work together and it became a non-issue.”
Keep your poise. Doris Jeanette, a licensed psychologist and trained sex therapist, says, “The best way to deal with embarrassing situations is to be graceful and smile. If you are relaxed, it will relax the situation and allow others to reduce their judgments and anxiety.”
If a co-worker is the one who’s embarrassed…
If the embarrassment comes from a personal problem that’s affecting co-workers, be considerate and brief when you bring up the issue. For example, if a co-worker or employee has an unpleasant odor, Jeanne Miller Rodriguez, an instructor at Sacramento State University, College of Continuing Education, says, “Speak privately with the employee. Be kind and diplomatic in how you present the issue. Do not mention who complained. Just say that you had noticed, and wanted to bring it to his attention. Emphasize his positive qualities relative to performance, personality, and demeanor. Do not assume the issue is a result of poor hygiene, there could be a medical issue at play.”
If a work-related incident is causing embarrassment for a co-worker or employee, know what you’re going to say and how you’ll say it to keep the confrontation brief. Brittany Dowell, director of publishing relations at Digital Talent Agents, says, “I was new to management and one of my interns made a very careless screw-up in an email with a client, which reflected badly on my professional brand and the company’s image as a whole. The intern needed to be reprimanded, but I dreaded the awkward encounter of telling someone they royally messed up. I prepared for the meeting as fully as possible by writing out exactly what I needed to say. The experience taught me that receiving an embarrassing reprimand from a manager might be just as awkward and embarrassing for that manager to deliver.”

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