Breaking the Ice: How to Deal with Workplace Awkwardness

As places begin to reopen, we’re at a blooming phase of hiring once again. That means welcoming new recruits and finding ways to get along. In a diverse workplace, we’re bound to come across individuals with differing personalities than our own – some being brutally shy, and others who share every intimate detail about their personal lives just after saying ‘hi’.

But whether it’s the way they talk or how they walk, even the most confident person will have experienced cringe-worthy moments that they wish to forget. And with such rigid hierarchy that puts professionalism over casual bonding, the workplace is undoubtedly one of the most inviting settings for awkward situations to arise.

Think Beyond the ‘Awkwardness’

In today’s collaborative environment, people feel obligated to socialize because it’s basic work etiquette. If you’re lucky, you might end up finding a work ‘bff’ you can get along with. However, small talk can only go so far before it gets awkward. Sometimes, people say things they don’t mean, while there are others who are innocent by nature and slow on picking up social cues.

Humans can be quick to jump into conclusions when certain behaviors strike them as odd. Though our first instinct may be to judge, this type of reaction will only inflict unnecessary tension within teams and cause damage in the long term. When interacting with your employees or coworkers, try your best to keep an open mind by doing the following:

  • Take into account that the person may have grown up with a different cultural background or upbringing.
  • Consider using more universally-understood humor when making a joke.
  • Get a better picture of your teammate’s personality and communication style using team-fit solutions.
  • Work is work, after all. Focus on getting the job done together instead.

Confronting the ‘Awkwardness’

Given that we’re at the office eight hours a day (or on Zoom meetings for those working remotely), weird workplace interactions, dreaded team presentations, and those awkward silences within conversations can be tough to avoid. There will be times when you wish you could lock yourself up in a room alone, hiding away from the root of it all to prevent further discomfort. But only by confronting them openly will we be able to break the ice between employees. Here are some tactful things you can say if you ever find yourself in these awkward situations:

To the Excessive Chatters –

  • “Sorry I have a deadline to meet. Now is not a good time for me.”
  • “Let’s discuss this during our lunch break instead.”
  • “I’m not the best person to ask about this matter. Is there someone else you could reach out to?”

To the Super Shy –

  • “Would you like to talk about this in private?”
  • “Does this topic make you feel uncomfortable?”

Many of these awkward conversations can be salvaged with a bit of effort and the right mindset. By being more understanding and open-minded, you’ll find yourself adapting to situations using the right words and expressions.