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When you're in a tight spot in the office

When you're in a tight spot in the officeImage Credit: Supplied

It is not uncommon in office life to get in a situation where you feel that it is beyond your control or that you don't have a clue about what's going on.

You may have stepped in some bigger office politics problem, rubbed someone the wrong way, or any other reason that you really don't have much to do with or a way to control. What is in your hands, however, is your response and ability to mitigate the problem.

Even when you're absolutely certain that you didn't do anything wrong, ignoring that there is a problem won't help it go away. In many cases, whatever misunderstanding or issue will probably be escalated unless you intervene at the right time and take charge. How to do this requires sensitivity and understanding of what happened and what can be done to go forward.

Ask a straightforward question

It could be easier to tap around the issue, find reasons to talk to people who seem upset to check if they are really, or just test the waters with random actions. If you're acting blindly without even knowing what's going on, you may be complicating matters even further.

A better strategy in these situations is to simply ask a question. Go to the person who seems upset or taken back and ask if there is a problem. Be nice and genuinely interested in knowing if there is an issue that needs to be addressed. People typically appreciate that you care about the relationship, and if there is an issue they will be more open to talk about it.

If the person doesn't appear to be open to speaking with you, your best bet is your supervisor — alternatively HR or a higher-up person if the problem is with your supervisor. Explain that you've sensed that there is a problem because of something you did or said, and you've no clue about what went wrong. Reiterate that your goal is to sort out any issues and not let them brew into a full-fledged crisis. At all costs, avoid pointing fingers and personal attacks.

Understand the dynamics

Problems are often a result of office dynamics that a new hire — or even a veteran employee — isn't aware of. The more you study how things work within your office environment, the more likely that you will be able to develop your sensitivity to others' requirements.

Even if you didn't do this in the past, and you've got in trouble, take it as a lesson learnt and make sure that going forward, you don't repeat the same mistake. People's tolerance goes down with time, so it is important not to push your luck too much.

Avoid gossip

In many such situations, there are enough around the office who are willing to share thoughts, listen to your concerns and bounce ideas. This may sound like a great idea if you do know these people and their agenda. If you've no clue, however, about the dynamics in your office, you may be doing yourself a disservice by expanding the scope of issue by involving more people.

Again a more direct, straightforward approach with the people who are concerned is the best to take. Avoid the insider intelligence that others may provide and remember many of these volunteer could be carrying information both ways.

Move on

Once you've the issue sorted out, move on. Return to the happy place you were at before the problem and try not to hold to bad feelings. Office environments are complicated and misunderstandings do happen. If you're able to pre-empt them, that is great. If you're able to nip them in the bud, that is also good. But, don't expect them to never happen or go away on their own, because that is unrealistic.

In all cases, as long as a problem is sorted out, don't dwell on it, create enemies and allies, or distance yourself from people that you work with on a daily basis. Instead, speak openly about how to move on and collaborate going forward — and invest in this plan yourself.

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Source: Rania Oteify, Special to

The writer,a former Gulf News Business Features Editor, is a Seattle-based editor