Being able to find the funny side to uncomfortable moments is a true gift. When awkwardness starts to infiltrate the air between coworkers, it is he or she who can make a joke of the situation and move on, who makes it out alive. But sometimes, that’s easier said than done.
Unfortunately, offices are breeding grounds for uncomfortable situations. We all make mistakes. We all fall victim to situational nightmares. We all make thoughtless slips of the tongue. Sometimes we are forced to hold both hands above our head and surrender to embarrassment. There’s no other way out; no wise-crack that can alleviate the pressure. Without further ado, here are my top 5 cringeworthy office moments that I simply can’t deal with:
1. Walking down a long corridor towards someone
You’re on your way out of the office, and begin the slow walk down the hallway to the elevator. At the same time, someone you sort of know walks out of the lift at the other end. You make eye contact once. You both smile, maybe raise an eyebrow or two. A few seconds pass and you’re still walking towards each other. You smile again, this time bigger, and maybe even shrug your shoulders. You mouth the word ‘hi’, then look away. Then you have to look back at them because you’ll trip over if you look sideways. They’re uncomfortable, you’re uncomfortable. After what feels like hours, you finally pass them. You almost stop, lean on your knees and pant, because the marathon is finally over. One more fake smile and you may have had a panic attack.
2. Standing in slow and silent elevators
You’re waiting for the elevator to come. In that time you grow 20% more grey hairs on your head from stressing over how much more forced small talk you can really take. It finally arrives and you shuffle inside with everyone else. Turns out it’s anything but the saviour you envisaged. You could hear a pin drop; the silence would make a library sound rowdy. The bell rings and you can’t get out of there quickly enough, pushing past the others. You breathe in the fresh air, you’re free! Only you aren’t, because this is level 1 and you need to get to level 3. Back into the cell you go, with your tail between your legs.
3. Spotting food on someone’s face
You settle down for a meeting with David. He plans to tell you some exciting news about a new project you’ll be working on together. Within the 10 seconds you spot a piece of cake hanging on for dear life just next to his left dimple. David should know he can’t have his cake and eat it too. Now you’ve spotted it, you can’t look away. Then David notices you staring, catches his own reflection in the window and then leans into see what the brown dot is on his face. He wipes his cheek and the crumb’s fate is sealed. By the time it hits the table, you’re both staring at it. The room is suddenly silent and you’re wondering why this somehow feels like your fault. What were you supposed to do, tell him?!?
4. Being accidentally spat on
You don’t know Mary very well, but your bladders must know each other because they’re always in sync and you always bump into each other in the bathroom. Anyway, you’re midway through a cheap conversation about why the sink area is always wet, when all of a sudden, a piece of saliva flies out of her mouth and into your eye. You both know it happened, because her eyes clearly follow its flight path, and you go dangerously cross-eyed from trying to locate its whereabouts upon landing. Mary is mortified, so to help her save face you act like nothing happened and keep talking. Then you’re racking your brain trying to concoct a natural-looking excuse to wipe your eye, because now it’s starting to water and you don’t know if it’s your tears or her spit dribbling back out and… and… it’s all just too gross to handle. You don’t need this kind of stress in your life.
5. Being hung up on midway through a call
You’re on a phone call in an open plan office; all of your colleagues can hear you, but you’re not too phased by it because everyone has to do it; there are no private booths. You’re in the middle of your sales pitch to a client. You’ve been talking non-stop for a few minutes now but it’s okay because you’re really in the zone and making a really compelling case. Finally, you wrap things up and finish your sentence… “so, how does that sound, James?” And then there’s silence. It’s so loud that it echoes in your mind and fills your entire body with fear. “James?” you say his name again, but no answer. “James, are you still there?”
It’s in that moment that you know he’s not there anymore. He hung up. While you failed miserably to maintain James’ interest, you have successfully caught the attention of everyone in your office, within a 5-metre radius from your desk. You hang up the phone slowly in defeat, and can’t help but notice everyone staring at you. You do a nervous laugh to disguise the tears you’re crying on the inside. Oh how you wish you were back in that elevator, or walking down that long corridor, perhaps blinded in the bathroom with Mary or back sitting in that meeting with David.
…Anywhere but here.