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Keep calm and carry on. Photo: 123RF

10 Awkward Office Situations To Deal With Like A Pro

There are the nasty political office situations that involve devious people claiming credit for your hard work or you finding out that your two married colleagues are up to something illicit. But there are the more harmless though just-as-real work situations that you need help getting out of too.

1. Sending out an email by mistake

Every once in a while, this happens. Either because you cut and pasted text from another email and then hit “send” before you changed the text for the next recipient (so Daryl gets an email addressed to Marilyn). Or, worse, you forwarded the wrong snarky email by mistake to the person you were complaining about. Depending on the email system you use, there are options to retrieve sent emails but only if you do it in less time than it takes the recipient to open and read it. The only way out? Send a second email apologising and if your content was malicious, say that you were having a really bad day and that you are truly sorry for having sent such a harsh email.


2. Not wanting to ride with your big boss to a function

Tell him or her in advance that you have to run a quick errand before the function and that you will make your way to it later. Your CEO may heave a sigh of relief too because she may have offered you a ride out of professional courtesy when she would rather listen to Jason Mraz and have some me-time in her car.

3. Your deskmate is forever snacking loudly or eating something stinky

Make a joke out of it and remember to laugh while you are at it so you don’t appear too difficult. Say something like “my contact on the phone was asking what’s that constant cracking noise!” or “can you help me stick to my diet please because each time you eat those keropok, I get soooo hungry!”.

4. Your co-worker nicks your secret snacks stash

Then there’s the colleague who doesn’t believe in BYOS (read: bring your own snacks), is always peckish, and finishes up your cookies, chocolate and cuttlefish strips. Tell him that you have a minor health issue – low blood sugar is always a good, ambiguous one – and that you can’t go hungry at work. Even better, find out what he hates to eat, like durian candy and unsalted almonds, and stockpile those. He’ll soon lose interest and scavenge elsewhere.


5. Getting stuck in the lift with someone you’ve been trying to avoid

There’s always that one person in the office whom you just can’t stand, let alone be in a lift with for all of three minutes. Smile slightly (because too much of a grin will make him or her think that it’s okay to get over-friendly) and try to move to the back of the elevator. Yes, even when it’s just you two in the lift. I’ve also learnt from previous work experiences that in such a situation, you should smile while looking at the floor. This way, you strike the fine balance between being a nice, mature adult and keeping your distance.

6. Not inviting that one colleague to your wedding dinner

Not that you don’t like him but you had just enough guests to fill a 10-pax table and he joined the team five days ago. If he finds out and gets miffed, approach him in person and say apologetically that you weren’t sure if he would have liked to attend. And try your best to convince him that it was a really small affair. Though in reality, you’ll be surprised how many co-workers are happy not to be invited to weddings, especially Chinese weddings. Why? That $150-minimum ang pow, of course.


7. Stoning at a meeting when someone asks you a question

Never pretend that you were paying attention and that you heard the question in the first place. Instead, be partially honest and say something like “I didn’t hear you the first time round so can you repeat your question please?” and pray that you have an answer to the question – that is, if you weren’t daydreaming about marrying Bella Hadid during the entire meeting.

8. Your boss appearing behind you just as you were watching a Youtube video on pimple popping

First, it depends on which industry you are in. If you are in advertising or digital marketing, anything can be “research for work”. Otherwise, click pause quickly and chat with your boss. Remember, you always look less dodgy if you do not close or minimise your window frantically. Or you could simply affix a mini mirror on your computer.


9. You are new at work and your team goes out for lunch without you

It happened in school when you joined mid-term and it’s happening now at the age of 42. Ask casually where your co-workers lunch and say “mind if I tag along?”. Or suggest a nearby eatery (but don’t choose an expensive one or a café selling only vegan fare – that would deter them even more!) and ask if anyone would like to join you for lunch.

10. You really prefer not to eat with your team

Your lunch hour is too precious to be spent with a posse of co-workers who love to yak nonstop about Korean boybands (you, on the other hand, only love Cher and Lionel Richie). Pack lunch from home or dabao food from the office canteen and make it obvious that you aren’t interested in heading out. Or try and leave for lunch before the rest do – having a fixed routine like barre every day is useful – or do what someone I know does… close her office door and stay inside for the entire lunch hour.

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