Monday, January 31, 2011

Embarrassing Situations

Your colleague’s fly is open, your friend has a giant run in her stocking, your lunch mate has spinach stuck between his front teeth, or someone has feloniously bad breath. What do you do?
First of all, you have to be direct but discreet. Get the person out of earshot of other people and say, “Your fly is open,” in the same tone of voice you would use to say, “It’s raining outside.” If you don’t know the person, find somebody in the group who does to give the message.
You are in a more serious situation if you have a friend who has a particular and persistent bad habit or something like chronic bad breath. If he’s a real friend, you have to tell him about it even if you know he won’t like it. Use the “critical I” if you can. “I’ve been told that I’ve had bad breath from time to time, but it seems to be a chronic problem with you. Maybe you have a dental problem you don’t know about, or it might be just a matter of using mouthwash more often. That’s what worked for me.” The story or analogy you convey doesn’t necessarily have to be about the exact problem that your friend has. If you haven’t had that exact problem before, choose a story that shows parallels to the other person’s situation.

Sexual Harassment

What to do? Go right to the senior officer in your company or department, report it, and demand justice? Consult a lawyer? Put up with it until it becomes blatant? Cry? Hit somebody?
One way you could react is by giving a response that attacks the ego of the offender:
“I hope you don’t think that was sexually attractive. In fact, it was comical. You’re making a fool of yourself.”
Or for something a bit stronger: “I didn’t realize how pathetic you were. You’re really a silly little man.”
Or begin with a warning: “I’m going to forget this
happened. But if anything like this ever happens
again, everybody here is going to know about it, and you’re going to be in more trouble than you can imagine.”
Be prepared to follow through on your warning if necessary.

Firings, Layoffs, and Demotions

The work arena is fraught with difficult and disappointing situations. People get fired, laid off, passed over for promotion, transferred against their will, and chewed out unjustly by the boss. In these situations nothing you can say will fix the problem, so it is important to mirror the person’s distress. Let him know that he isn’t alone, that he is, in fact, in good company. Reinforce the person’s good qualities. Don’t say, “Things will work out for the best,” or even worse, “I told you something like this would happen.” Don’t say that what happened to somebody else is even worse than what happened to him.
Instead, try one of these phrases:
“I’m so sorry you must go through this.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
“This must be very, very tough for you.”
Do not indicate in any way that the unfortunate turn of events was predictable or even partially the fault of the injured party. If a colleague was denied promotion for what you believe to be very good cause, don’t launch into a lecture about the skills she needs to acquire or improve upon or tell her that somebody else was more qualified for the position. If the injured party says, “Don’t you think that this was rotten luck?” and you know luck had nothing to do with it, just say, “You must be really disappointed,” or some other phrase that lets her know you identify with her emotional state.