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Sticky Work Situations (and How to Deal With Them)

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From cubicle crushes to phantom coworkers, here’s how to handle awkward office scenarios.

We’ve all been in a less-than-ideal work situation, whether it’s simply a coworker eating smelly fish fillet for lunch, or something more serious like an evil boss forcing his minions to work until sunrise. Here’s the best way to deal with common workplace woes and tricky situations.

1. Your boss is a real Miranda Priestly.

This type of boss instills fear in every breathing creature in the office, creating an anxious feeling in your stomach that no dosage of Tums can cure.

The worst part is, working in this nerve-wracking environment may actually cause you to make mistakes (or maybe you’re still doing everything perfectly, but crying under your desk each night). Whatever the case, this type of situation can be remedied by putting yourself in your boss’s shoes. Sure, your boss will probably never be pleasant, but he or she can treat you a little better. How, you ask?

It’s all about becoming an ally, says Dr. Noelle Nelson, psychologist and author of Got a Bad Boss? Work that Boss to Get What You Want at Work. The first step to getting on the boss’s side is figuring out what type of bad boss you have, whether it’s a finger-pointer, irrational boss, evil boss, or some other ill-equipped leader. So let’s say you have an irrational boss who’s always yelling. The best thing you can do is stand still and do nothing. “Internally, you want to go very Zen,” Nelson says. “You want to be completely calm in the eye of the storm. You can’t turn into the boss’s ally if you’re running for cover.”

Once the tornado passes, remain composed and simply say, “Let me see what I can do about that.” It’s about sifting through the yelling to uncover the real problem, Nelson adds.

2. Your coworker is like a ghost.

A phantom coworker—one that’s never around—poses a serious threat to group projects. If this person is rolling it at 11 a.m., leaving at 3 p.m., and enjoying a cocktail over long lunch, it still doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to say something to your boss, says a Forbes article, “10 Tips For Dealing With a Lazy Coworker.” If you must rat on your colleague for the purpose of moving forward with a collaborative task, frame it that way rather than simply saying, “And she’s always coming in at 11!”

A boss who’s MIA is even more devastating to the production process. It’s important to recognize that this person’s secret desire is to be left alone, and his or her secret fear is being cornered into doing something (like managing), Nelson says. To counter a ghost supervisor, you must take charge. “Find your boss, and get them to say yes to your list,” Nelson says. “And they will, because they don’t want to deal with it.”

3. You’re in love.

You spend most of your time at work, right? So a work crush only seems natural. In fact, CareerBuilder’s 2014 office romance survey found that 38 percent of U.S. workers have dated someone from their company, and 16 percent admitted to doing so more than once. Although many love stories bloom in the garden of cubicles, it doesn’t mean it’s a wise idea. Not only may it be a violation of your company’s policies (especially if you’re the supervisor), but things can just get flat-out awkward if the relationship ends. This is not to say pursuing an office crush is always a bad idea, though. Just make sure you’ve established a plan for what happens in case the romance fizzles. And of course, be careful that you’re not spending more time making googly eyes than you are doing work.

[Related: How to Deal With an Office Romance]

Photo: Buero Monaco / Getty Images

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