A professional environment requires specific protocol and formalities. Certain conversation topics and behaviors simply aren’t office appropriate. That said, everyone experiences moments when these rules are broken and it can sometimes be very awkward. For advice on dealing with awkward situations at the office, read on and don’t bury yourself in the sand just yet:
1. Calling your colleague by the wrong name
Memorizing a long list of new names when you’re new to an office can be quite the feat. And after a couple of days, there’s a lot of pressure not to slip up when you call on a colleague. On the flip side, when you’re new somewhere and people are still learning your name, it can also be awkward trying to correct someone on what your name really is.
If you accidentally call someone by the wrong name, apologize as soon as you make the realization. If you look the person in the eyes and apologize genuinely, a reasonable person will understand. It happens to all of us. If you’re being called the wrong name on multiple occasions, one way to deal with that would be to send the person an email, maybe asking a question about their role at the company, and sign your name at the bottom. If that still doesn’t help, ask for a quick meet up and mention to the person as much as you appreciate a good nickname, you think they may not have correctly learned your name for whatever reason. Don’t suffer for the duration of your internship – be proactive.
2. Not understanding what you’re supposed to be doing
“So what am I supposed to be working on right now?” It’s a question common among interns and office newbies. Sometimes, there’s simply not a full day of work for someone in a new office position. If you’re sure that there’s nothing you’re supposed to be working on, spend this time to research your company. Look up the directory, check out the organizational hierarchy, read any documents you have at your disposal to better research your new workplace. Send out networking emails to professionals you’re interested in working with.
If you do have work to do and you’re not sure exactly how to get it done, turn to your supervisor and ask questions with as much specificity as possible, while still being efficient with their time. Whenever you receive instructions, write them down so you don’t have to ask again.
3. Coming in under or over-dressed
The office is a place where you generally want to blend in. As you’re adapting to your new environment, there’s a natural urge to not stand out. That’s why it’s a good idea to spend your first day of work dressed as neutral as possible. Dress conservatively, professionally, with ironed clothing and hair styled in an orderly fashion.
However, if you come in on your first week and completely miss the mark, there are a couple of things you can do. First of all, take this as a learning moment. Take a look at what your boss and colleagues are wearing. If you have to buy a few clothing items, it might be worth the extra effort to make some slight wardrobe changes. If you feel completely out of place, you can always go change your clothes at lunch. It might also be worth it to ask your supervisor for some dress code tips. Remember to apologize if you feel you’re not dressed appropriately.
4. Experiencing a wardrobe malfunction
We’ve all had days where a shoe breaks randomly, a shirt gets a big stain or we lose a key shirt button. If there’s a way to go on through the day without having to change clothes, try to make it work. If a change needs to be made, use this opportunity to confide in your colleagues. Ask around for safety pins, try to wash out a stain in the bathroom, see if colleagues have a spare pair of shoes in their bag… Be entrepreneurial and find the best solution, hopefully with the help of your new work friends.
5. Completely messing up a task
Well, you ran straight into brick wall at work. It happens to the best of us. This massive screw up doesn’t have to define you, what will define you is what you do next. Handling failure, even when you feel awkward and uncomfortable, is key to proving yourself to a new employer. It’s your job to own up to screwing up. Ask for as much constructive criticism as possible and then fix whatever you messed up with a positive attitude.
6. Forwarding or sending an inappropriate message to the wrong person
Uh oh. That email making fun of your boss’s haircut just got sent to… your boss. Awk-ward. As a rule, never ever write down anything negative about a colleague through any means of office internal communications. There’s a good chance it will end up in the wrong hands. It’s just too risky. Speaking negatively about your office in general should also probably be reserved to close friends or family outside of the office.
But if this tragic mistake has already happened, it’s time to apologize. Request a meeting with the person whose feelings may have been hurt or who may be offended by this message. Explain how you feel like a complete idiot for behaving in an unprofessional and petty manner. Apologize for the content of the message. It may not completely fix the situation, but it’s much better than nothing.
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