Business Etiquette: Handling Tough Situations

Inevitably, professionals find themselves in sensitive situations that conventional wisdom can’t help them navigate through. If your employees find themselves in a tough situation, do they have the soft skills needed to produce positive outcomes? Here are a few situations that can’t be solved in the conference room, and solutions to handle these tough situations with poise and confidence.

You Find a Highly Sensitive Document in the Copy Room

Instead of ignoring the document and making it someone else’s problem, take the initiative to hand deliver the sensitive information to the intended recipient. Second, casually, confidently, and without much detail, offer them the document and tell them, “I found this in the copy room, and it looks like it should have gone to you.” Be very matter of fact, and do not comment on the document. The last step is to move on and never mention the document again, either to the recipient, or to coworkers.

Mixed Up Names

Mishearing a name is a common occurrence in workplace settings, and it can be difficult to tell someone that they’re calling you the wrong name. For this reason, many people let this go on for too long. Unfortunately, when the person discovers that they’ve been calling you the wrong name, they are not only embarrassed, but they begin to question why you didn’t correct them earlier. The best way to correct this situation is to notify them immediately, but give them an out. For instance, tell them “Actually, my name is Jackie. It’s pretty noisy in here, though. I should have said it louder.”

The sooner you correct someone, the better. Make sure they know that you’re not upset, and emphasize that it’s not their fault. This will allow you to have a productive relationship with anyone, even if they mishear your name the first time!


Occasionally, someone’s social media presence can be a distraction or a source of frustration. When you work directly with that person, unfriending them, or removing them from your newsfeed can create an awkward workplace dynamic. Instead of simply clicking unfriend and letting them wonder why, the considerate thing to do is to tell the person you are going to unfriend them. For their sake, offer a reason. For instance, let them know that you’re cutting back on social media, and want to cut down on content in your newsfeed. Remember that you can block certain content, and often, that’s an easier solution than unfriending a coworker.

Wardrobe Malfunction

When you see a coworker with a zipper down, or a loose button, it can be embarrassing for both you and them. To minimize this embarrassment, let them know quietly, quickly, and privately. When the person is of the opposite sex, remember that you are not alone. See if there is someone nearby, ideally of the same gender, who would be more comfortable notifying the person. Make sure to tell them not to mention that you noticed. This creates an easy resolution, with no awkward outcomes!

Crying Coworker

Crying is a completely normal, human reaction, so if you stumble upon a crying coworker, do not simply try to make them stop crying. Instead, get them a tissue and, if they look like they’re in extreme distress, ask if they’d like you to leave, or find someone better equipped to help. Offer a listening ear, and empathize. Even though your job isn’t to solve their issues, helping them through their initial emotional reactions is an important role that you can take!

Coworkers Craving Controversial Conversation

The easiest way to handle coworkers that just can’t help sparking controversial conversations about topics including religion, race, and politics is to simply avoid them. If you do find yourself on the receiving end of a political rant, instead of adding your opinion, try to laugh it off, with a line such as “I’m not taking on that hot potato!” If this behavior persists, try being more blunt, informing your coworker, “I don’t discuss topics like that at work.” It can be difficult to speak this openly, but it’s definitely better than the alternative – standing there uncomfortably while your coworker discusses controversial topics.

In any situation, there are a few questions you can ask to create great outcomes. First, ask yourself what would be best for the other person, and what would minimize their distress while allowing them to save face. Second, what stops the wrong behavior the fastest? And finally, what gets the work done best? Having the answer to these questions will help you navigate any business situation, and navigate the workplace with confidence and poise.

The BizLibrary Collection is full of courses in business skills like this one. From developing confidence in tough conversations, to negotiating tough situations, our microlearning courses help your employees learn, retain, and apply all the skills they need to become top performers.

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Training & Development Industry Researcher | Derek researches, discusses, and writes about the impacts of employee learning on organizations and individuals. He regularly interviews L&D and HR professionals, sharing their insight on trends and best practices that help organizations create stronger training programs, and help to grow their employees and their business.