Getting Unstuck from Sticky Situations

The name tag goes on the right side.
It’s one of the things that puzzle a lot of us when confronted with a Sharpie and a peel-off label. According to etiquette expert Emily Post, you should wear the tag on your right because it makes it easier for someone who is greeting you and shaking your hand to read your name (ostensibly, he or she will be shaking your right hand).  
I bring this up because figuring out where to stick your name tag is a relatively simple thing. What’s harder to deal with is someone at work yelling at you or taking credit for your ideas, as a friend of mine recently found. Or being asked to do something you absolutely do not want to do. Or finding yourself in an awkward situation, and at a loss as to what to say.   
Those are sticky situations. And while you can find plenty of books offering advice on how to cope -- including “Excuse Me, But I Was Next” by Emily Post’s great-great-granddaughter-in-law Peggy Post -- let me offer up a few suggestions that have worked for me when I’ve had to unstick myself from tricky situations.
1. The yelling thing. If a co-worker, family member, friend or even stranger is yelling at you, take a deep breath and stay calm. When they’re finished yelling -- or if they take a pause to take a breath -- hold up your hand and say, “You’re obviously upset. Why don’t you take some time to get yourself together.” Then walk away.

I mean it. Never engage an angry person. You’ll get nowhere and you may end up yelling yourself, which really doesn’t accomplish anything. If you’re being yelled at by your boss, find yourself a new job if you can, because you’re dealing with what I consider to be the most unprofessional behavior. Yelling also shows that your boss doesn’t respect you. If you can’t quit, you really can’t say anything except “I understand,” “I’m sorry,” or “I see.” A good boss will apologize for losing his or her temper and yelling.
2. Idea theft. A friend of mine recently offered up a suggestion during a meeting, only to be ignored. A few minutes later, during the same meeting, one of her colleagues offered up the same idea and everyone thought it was fabulous. Has this ever happened to you?

Now, it could be that my friend didn’t present her idea as clearly or as concisely as her co-worker, but the bottom line is that she was unhappy because she wasn’t getting recognition for her idea.

What to do? I suggest speaking up as soon as possible and saying, “I’m so glad you like my idea. Now let’s talk about how we can make it even better.” The point here is to take control of the situation and stand up for yourself. If the person who is taking credit for your idea is your boss, see my suggestion above. 
3. No, no, no. Saying no can be very difficult for some people. That's why, instead of “No,” I always say, “That doesn’t work for me.” But you can't just throw it out there and expect great results. You're going to get pushback from whomever is doing the asking, since they don't want to take "no" for an answer. So knowing what to say after "That doesn't work for me" is important too. See my essay on this topic, “The No Problem,” for what to say next.
4. At a loss. What to do when you’re speechless, literally? Take a deep breath (I’m a big believer in deep breaths), count to five, and see if something comes to you after you’ve had a chance to clear your head. Still got nothing? That’s okay. If you don’t know what to say, then just say it. “I don’t know what to say to that. I’ll think about it and get back to you later.” Or maybe, “Hmm. I’m going to have to gather some more information before I can give you an answer on that.”

Take the time you need to come up with an answer you can live with. It’s much better to take a pause before saying anything than to say something you may regret later.

In the meantime, take comfort in the fact that you know which side your name tag goes on. And that you'll have absolutely no problem unsticking it. -- Connie Guglielmo

April 2, 2014

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