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As you advance through your career, you’ll inevitably pick up various workplace skills that will stand you in good stead over the years.

However, there are some common workplace dilemmas that nobody wants to deal with – yet having the capability to tackle them head on will make you stand out from the crowd. Who knows, being the one to take the lead in an uncomfortable situation could even result in unexpected benefits!

So, how would you fare at dealing with the following scenarios?

  1. The incompetent boss

Oh dear – nobody wants to be in a position where they’re ‘managing up’ or having to cover for their manager’s gaffes. Having the courage to speak could improve matters and, if done the right way, even lead to greater respect between you. Asking how you can do things differently to make your manager’s life easier – keep suggestions constructive and viable, no need for toadying – could get the problem sorted without offending their ego. If they end up thinking it was all their idea, so much the better…

  1. The terrible policy

So, your company wants to implement a new policy and your team is completely onboard – but you can see glaring bear traps in the path ahead. Do you have the confidence to be the one to go against the consensus? Being the lone voice of dissent has its risks, but there are ways to soothe any ruffled feathers.

To avoid coming across as a naysayer, never just present a problem; always come armed with a suggested solution and an openness to hear something you didn’t know before. Also, if your concerns aren’t heeded, be ready to genuinely set your reservations aside and commit to making the policy work. Reasonable people don’t mind hearing different opinions, but no one likes a saboteur.

  1. The hygienically challenged colleague

Could this be the most cringeworthy scenario on the list? Generally, the duty of dealing with body odour issues should fall to the malodorous coworker’s manager. So, if that’s you, don’t shirk your responsibility as a leader. Yes, it’s mortifying to say and even more mortifying to hear, but think of it as a kindness to let someone know about an issue of which they may not be aware.

Do it privately, sensitively and without judgement; remember that any unusual odours could be caused by a medical issue, not a lack of personal hygiene. Alternatively, changes to the employee’s personal, financial or mental health circumstances could be having a direct or indirect effect on their ability to shower or wash clothes regularly. So, it’s important to be compassionate and open-minded in your approach.

Simply tell the person, as specifically as you can, what the problem is and what you would like them to do about it. Then listen to what they have to say and offer any help you can. Keep it brief and matter-of-fact to help mitigate any embarrassment. Importantly, have the conversation at the end of the day, so they can go straight home and don’t have to spend the next eight hours feeling like a pariah.

  1. The tea round standoff

It’s probably a bit of a cliché these days, but entry level staff are still expected to make the tea for everyone in many work environments. However, some may find being the office’s designated tea person slightly demeaning and one could argue that it adds little of value to anyone’s work experience. Certainly, if you notice that your office’s tea-making duties seem to be split along gender or age lines, it’s time to suggest a shake-up.

What can you do instead? Apart from everyone making their own tea (which is a necessity during the Covid-19 pandemic, of course), you could suggest a tea buddy system. Each person is randomly assigned a partner for whom they exclusively offer to make drinks and vice versa. This reduces the time-consuming burden of the ‘whole office round’ and feels fairer. Plus, it can be a useful way to encourage a rapport between people in different rooms, departments or levels who might not otherwise interact.

  1. The office slacker

Noticed that someone isn’t pulling their weight and it’s getting on your last nerve? That’s natural enough, but tackling the problem can require discretion, particularly if internal politics are at play.

As aggravating as it might be that Brenda always slips out ten minutes early and the boss never seems to notice, ask yourself whether her early departures actually affect your workload or that of the team. If not, your manager may write the complaint off to interpersonal differences and be less likely to listen the next time you raise an issue. Always focus on the concrete ways that a colleague’s behaviour impacts the work and leave your personal feelings out of it.

If you can’t identify a work impact? Then you might just have to let it go and leave it to the manager to handle, if and when they see fit… which is a whole other skill in itself!

Looking to develop your leadership potential?

Leadership & management is about more than just decision-making. The best business leaders arm themselves with the information they need to make good decisions and solve problems. Whether it’s meetings, interviews or team dynamics, there’s always something to learn, and somewhere to improve.

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Mark Fryer

1st December 2020