Though the concept of working outside the home might seem simple enough -- go to work, do a job, return home -- there's more to it than meets the eyes. Having a job often means spending about 40 hours a week working in close quarters with others. All this working together can lead to the development of sticky situations from time to time. These stressful situations, which can range from office-place gossip to the discovery of illegal activities, can take on many forms and come with varying consequences. If you find yourself in the midst of an about-to-explode workplace situation, extricate yourself immediately to reduce the likelihood of suffering consequences as a result of your involvement.
Voice your disapproval in no uncertain terms. Individuals often dance around a problem, trying to avoid offending others. Instead of performing pirouettes, gather all the courage you can muster and speak up. If, for instance, you find yourself in the midst of an office gossip factory, go to the gossip queen and simply tell her that you need to focus more on your work -- and that you're finding all the "information sharing" distracting. Don't worry about whether or not you become the focus of their gossiping. You're there to do a job first and foremost -- and your coworkers need to understand that.
Approach the situation diplomatically. Keep any conversations you have regarding the problem focused on yourself to reduce the likelihood that you offend the individual to whom you're speaking. If you have to speak to a co-worker who is telling offensive jokes, for example, don’t say, "you jokes are in bad taste." Instead, try, "Your jokes are offending me," making it clear that you aren't trying to judge his behavior as a whole, but instead simply trying to tell him how his offensive behavior is impacting you. By taking this more tactful approach, you improve your changes of remedying the problem without repercussions.
Go to your boss if necessary. While running to the boss every time a small problem or situation arises generally isn't the way to go, there are times when you do need to ask for help. If you tried diplomatic tactics and you still find yourself stuck in an uncomfortable situation, go to your boss and present him with the facts. Clearly explain your attempts to escape the situation and tell him what your end goal is so he can help you in reaching it.
Document your concerns if they are of a legal nature. If your sticky situation is one that could result in jail time or other serious sanctions -- for example, if you suspect your boss is stealing or violating labor laws -- it's essential to protect yourself. Gather any evidence you can to ensure that it doesn’t become your word against his. If you are aware of your boss's illegal actions, you have an obligation to alert someone over your boss's head.
Set boundaries to avoid difficult situations in the future. Once you successfully escape an uncomfortable situation, you likely won't want to get involved in a similar one again. For example, if you got romantically involved with a coworker and ended up getting burned, learn from the situation by choosing not to date coworkers in the future. By learning from your mistakes, you can improve your chances of workplace success.
Erin Schreiner is a freelance writer and teacher who holds a bachelor's degree from Bowling Green State University. She has been actively freelancing since 2008. Schreiner previously worked for a London-based freelance firm. Her work appears on eHow, Trails.com and RedEnvelope. She currently teaches writing to middle school students in Ohio and works on her writing craft regularly.