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Awkward work conversations

What to say.

And what not to say.

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Work can be hard sometimes. Not only do people expect you to actually work, but you have to demonstrate capability and communicate with people who you have very little in common with bar a payroll officer. We’ve all been there. In the elevator, in the hallway, at the photocopier, scratching for things to say. Fear those interactions with other humans no more: we’ve got just the things for you to rattle off in their presence.

They ate your lunch

The sitch… So there’s a communal fridge and you’ve clearly labelled all you brought as yours with the delicately-phrased, ‘This is Steve’s lunch – touch at risk of death’ but still … your supplies are dwindling. And then, you come face to face with the culprit. Suspected or verified, it’s time to call them out.

How you deal… When it comes to matters of food, it’s important not to confront, but instead to guilt trip the hell out of them.  We’d let the conversation go a little something like… ‘Oh, yum. Hummus. How GREAT is organic hummus. Seriously, I love it and I bought some and it makes my day – but, silly me, I must have left it somewhere along the long walk to work through the rain I took because I had to choose whether to spend my money on hummus or bus fare. Oh well, you enjoy yours my friend.’

The office crush

The sitch… Do they even know you exist? You lose the power of speech when they are in your vicinity so chances are they either think you can’t speak English or are a mute. Problematic when you need to ask them work-related questions.

How you deal… You need to have a series of sentences ready to go. These phrases need to make you look not only like you have a command of the English language, but that you are the witty, charming, bright and beautiful person you want them to know you as. Ask them something that’s specifically work-related (and no, not if they’ve seen the stapler). For non-work related chat, try something like, ‘How about this weather?’ or ‘The weekend cannot come soon enough’ (unless your crush is your boss, that is).

When you just plain don’t like them

The sitch… They don’t vote for who you vote for, they type really loudly, they ate your lunch (which was clearly marked with your name). Work is like school: you are forced to hang out with people who are just not your people. With people who make you want to dry retch / run the other way.

The deal… Tough luck sunshine. Just in the same way you can’t choose your family, you also can’t choose your colleagues. Keep the talk with them small and short (to avoid nausea) but also try and find some common ground. Do you both like cats, for instance? Do you both hate Ken in accounting? Or, perhaps, you both know how to drive and can talk about the traffic?

The cry-er

The sitch… Every office has one of these. If you’re lucky enough to work for a multinational, chances are you have designated rooms for such displays of emotion so no one has the bear witness to their emotions. If not, we’ll help…

The deal… First, you need to get them out of the office as quickly as possible. Don’t ask ‘what’s wrong?’ but instead go straight to them and say, ‘let’s take a walk’. And then: walk. They may or may not tell you what’s wrong but now is the perfect time not to say a word. Ronan Keating was on the money: You say it best when you say nothing at all.

When they’re on holiday

The sitch… Their out-of-office is on but you really, really need something from them.

The deal… This is awkward because it’s you doing all the talking. Kind of like that time you were in a relationship and it was you putting all the effort in. Remember how that one ended? Don’t repeat history and hack their emails: move onto the next task or give yourself an early mark. 

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