Your Coworker Stinks! How to handle sensitive issues like personal hygiene

It’s not exactly the most pleasant thing in the world, having a difficult conversation with a coworker, but some things must be said for the sake of the work environment. After all, work is where you likely spend about 40 hours (or more) of your week. What’s worse than confronting a difficult or awkward situation is not confronting it and letting it… shall we say, “fester”. No one wants that!

We’ll use the example of hygiene issues at work. This type of thing can make working in close quarters a very tedious and even stressful situation. Maybe they are painfully unaware of the social standards of hygiene, perhaps they can’t help it due to medical reasons, or maybe they can’t smell themselves. Taking into consideration the fact that it may not necessarily be their fault, the situation must still be addressed to find a suitable solution that works for everyone. You may feel that this can’t be done without looking like a jerk, but it absolutely can be. These same steps can be used for other types of difficult conversations that must be had. 

Step 1: Don’t wait to have difficult conversations at work

The longer you wait, the harder it is. Anxiety will build up, ultimately keeping you from having the conversation at all and exacerbating the problem. Get in the habit of delivering feedback and having necessary conversations regularly and address issues immediately. 

Step 2: Check your mindset

You have to be in the right place to have the conversation to begin with, and that needs to be a calm and rational place. If you are already worked up about the issue, it is not the time to have the conversation and instead you should wait until you have your wits about you. This way you can bring positive energy into the situation by approaching it positively. 

Step 3: Practice having difficult conversations at work

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg encourages her employees to have tough conversations at least once a week. Because she believes if you do not have them, you’re not growing. Having the tough talks forces companies to bring uncomfortable issues out into the open. And it can help businesses address them, especially when it comes to critical matters like workplace diversity and pay inequality.

Step 4: Manage your emotions

Your goal is to have the conversation in an even tone and keep it professional. This technique is especially important when the meeting is with someone you work closely with. It can help if you look at things from a fact-based standpoint. When emotions start to take over, remind yourself that the more in control you are, the better you’ll be able to communicate the message.

Step 5: Be empathetic

Consider how the other person will feel during the conversation and give them time to process their emotions. Clearly explain why you’re having the meeting to help them fully understand your perspective. If you see them struggling, pause for a minute so they can gather their thoughts. If they start to get emotional, appreciate how they must be feeling and reassure them that you’re providing this feedback because you care.

Step 6: Brainstorm together

The goal of having this conversation is to come up with a solution. If it isn’t clear from the beginning, work together to brainstorm ideas. Listen to the other person’s thoughts and bring some suggestions to the table as well. Once you reach an agreement, make sure there is an action plan in place moving forward.

Tough talks can be awkward and unpleasant. But they are inevitable. The key is to approach them with honesty and empathy. By following these strategies, you’ll be able to successfully navigate difficult conversations at work while growing your potential.

 

What to do when you find out your boss is lying to the company

Let’s put you in an imaginary scenario. You’ve been working at your position in the company for quite some time, you’ve built an exceptional reputation and you have received high praise from your boss and other influential voices in the company. About 5 months ago, you had heard that the CEO of the company would be looking for a new Executive Assistant and had been hoping to hire internally. Upon speaking with your boss about the prospect of moving up, he agreed whole-hardheartedly and offered to put your name in the bid with a sparkling recommendation. 

Time has passed and without even a whisper, now another peer in the company has been announced to step into the role with the CEO. Happy as you can be for your peer, you are still curious why you weren’t chosen, so naturally you pose the question to your boss. He fumbles for an answer and gives you what you can only assume is a nervous run-around, something about the CEO needing to “go a different direction”. 

A week later, the CEO runs into you and questions why you had never applied for the position and confessing they aren’t very happy with the current person in the role. Okay, so now you know one unsettling thing for sure: Your boss lied to you. What do you do now?

You have two ways to handle this: re-actively or proactively. If you are in reactive mode, stay calm and be constructive. No matter the deceit and how hurtful it can be, it doesn’t entitle you to act out and lose your sense to rage. Make sure to stay collected. 

Reactive Actions

Do a cost/benefit analysis. Once you spot deceit, you have to choose between the lesser of two evils. If you confront your boss, you may poison the relationship forever. The same may be true if you go to someone else in the firm, such as HR or your boss’s boss. Think before you act, gossip, or complain. Have a hard conversation with yourself. Do you want to keep your job? Confrontation or sounding an alarm is not a good way to do that. But if changing jobs is not out of the question, it may make sense to directly address the deceit.

Turn the situation around. Before you engage in a hard conversation, try to understand the motivations your boss may have had. Is he trying to be discreet about a pending merger (which is morally understandable), or is he trying to hide a series of illegal kickbacks (morally repugnant)? Perhaps what feels like deceit to you is actually an attempt by your boss to protect you. Never confront your boss alone if you suspect laws have been broken; always consult an attorney first.

Have the hard conversation. Never corner or ambush your superior. If you choose to clear the air, provide a face-saving escape. Avoid labeling the deceit as such, and do not be accusatory. Put on your curiosity hat — remember, you might learn something. Use language such as “I might be seeing this the wrong way” or “I understand that there may have been circumstances that prevented you from sharing all the details with me.” Ask for an explanation of recent events that gave you the impression that you were not receiving an accurate portrayal of what’s been happening. To go back to the opening example, after the CEO pulled you aside, you might choose to relate that conversation to your boss and inform him that you avoided any discussion of previous opportunities — but also expressed enthusiasm about the chance to help her out in the future.

Proactive Actions

Be explicit about your moral code. Consider taking this simple step. Add a moral quote, such as “Success without honor is worse than fraud,” to your email signature line or in a framed print on your desk. The more you talk about, and live by, your principles, the harder it will be for others to treat you in a morally ambiguous manner.

Build strong relationships. If you have good relationships with your colleagues and become known as someone who sweats the details and always follows up, it will be harder to sustain a falsehood in front of you.

Pay attention. Carefully read memos and presentations that your boss and others circulate, and ask yourself if they fit logically with the messages your boss is giving you. By paying attention, you will be able to spot deceit earlier. If you begin to suspect deceit, document it. Write down specific examples, save copies of documents, and see whether your gut instincts hold up when listed in black and white. But don’t show anyone…yet.

There is a downside to this strategy: If you push it too hard, or run around all day long with a “gotcha notebook,” you may become known as a person who can be incredibly tiresome to work with. But there’s plenty of room in the middle. Situational awareness is a skill that takes practice, looking, and listening. Focus on the benefits of developing the skill, not on your boss’s wrongdoings.

If, after taking these steps, you find your boss lying to you again, it may be time to move on. A friend of mine once realized that her boss was highly supportive to her face but actively critical of her in private. In short, he was her enemy, and he was lying about it. It didn’t take her long to decide that there was no upside for her in confronting, or accusing, her boss, so she quietly and methodically made a plan to leave the company, and ended up with a much bigger job at a competitor nine months later. While it can feel unfair to have to make a career decision because of a morally deficient boss, doing so can sometimes lead you in the right direction, if a bit faster than you otherwise would have preferred.

At the end-of-the-day, you must keep an awareness about those you interact with and learn how to deal with conflict, especially deceit, in a professional manner. It doesn’t mean that it will be easy, but if can effect the relationships at work and how you are respected. 

 

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