No matter how much you love your job, you’re bound to encounter a situation that makes you want to hide under your desk until the moment passes. That desire to hide away and avoid facing the music, so to speak, isn’t caused by any single thing.
What rattles one person may not rattle another. Some people flee at the first sign of conflict, others run from team-building and bonding time, and others still shy away when an angry customer or pushy sales rep surfaces.
While it can be a wise move to avoid confrontation if it’s unlikely to change anything, avoidance is not a smart tactic if your lack of action threatens to impede your performance.
In this case, you’ve got to suck it up and deal with the problem, which, more often than not, is actually just your mindset—and not the situation itself. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:
1. When You’re Falling Behind on a Project
You don’t really like your project. Or you’re overwhelmed by it. When you think about it, you feel tired, so you keep pushing it aside, and now you’re behind.
What to Do
Stop thinking of the big picture, the final product. Instead, think small steps. Replace, “I’ve got to write a strategic plan for my department—ugh!” with something more strategic and digestible: “I need to critically review the last plan. Then I need to review any relevant research that has been published since the plan was written. Once I’m in a good place with that, I’ll start meeting with stakeholders.”
Breaking it down like this helps you take a monster of a project and put it into terms you can work with immediately. If you give yourself a road map for getting it done, you’ll stop falling behind and starting making strides. Anytime you feel bogged down, try to identify a single, manageable step to start with, and watch as all of those little steps add up to measurable progress with your consistent effort.
What’ll Happen if You Don’t
While there are plenty of legitimate reasons a project may take longer than expected—budget constraints or a change in leadership, for example—your disinterest or failure to address challenges don’t qualify. If you aren’t getting things done, your value as an employee may be called into question. Keep that from happening one small step at a time.
2. When Your Colleague’s Wrecking Your Productivity
You’ve got a colleague who’s taken to camping out next to your desk, inserting himself into your work, basically impeding your progress—totally unaware that you’re starting to get annoyed. Your reluctance to be rude has you politely tolerating the intrusions.
What to Do
You’re worried about being mean, but who’s really the bad guy here? This co-worker is either disrespectful and selfish or stunningly obtuse. Either way, indulging him is an act of self-sabotage, and that’s a road you don’t want to go down.
There’s no universal mandate to be mean when setting boundaries. Keep it simple. Start typing while he’s crouching on your territory. Without taking your eyes from the computer, say, “Oh, I just got an email that I have to respond to—catch up with you later?”
Be blunt but kind, “I hate to cut it short today, but I’ve got a deadline looming.” Simply staring straight ahead and avoiding direct conversation will usually signal to another person that it’s time to leave you be. You can do all of these things with a smile and a firm tone.
If you’ve tried the subtle tactics above to no avail, the problem warrants a straightforward conversation with your colleague. Make it clear this is about your work. You can say something like, “I’m really struggling to stay on top of my work and our conversations are cutting into my time. I’m starting to get questions about my projects. Right now, I just can’t afford to spend any extra time chatting.”
What’ll Happen if You Don’t
If you don’t wrest control of your time back from your co-worker, you may start to get a reputation as someone who neglects work to socialize. Combine that reputation with a lack of productivity, and you’re going to have one angry boss on your hands. If the relationship with your manager’s more important than the one with your chatty colleague, demonstrate its importance by shutting down the intrusions so you can be the dependable and efficient person you want to be.
3. When You Mess Up
You jacked up a project that created a headache for others or you said something you shouldn’t have and upset someone. The temptation to just slink to your desk and keep blinders on until 5:00 arrives is strong.
What To Do
People mess up all the time. Just pay attention the next time you’re in the break room and you’ll hear people complaining about their colleagues’ mishaps to one another. Own your mistake and make the necessary apologies. This step alone can do wonders for your relationships and reputation because an honest apology is powerful (and rare!).
Once you’ve done what you can to make things right, analyze the mistake. If you’re willing to do the work of figuring out how you got to the point of making the error and how you can avoid it in the future, you’re making a smart investment in yourself.
What’ll Happen if You Don’t
Your boss doesn’t expect perfection from you. But she will absolutely watch the way you handle blunders, because that’ll tell her a great deal about your character and future potential. Make it clear that you’re worth her investment, blunders and all.
You may never particularly like dealing with an uncomfortable situation, and not all uncomfortable situations warrant action on your part. Sometimes the wise course of action is to simply walk away, let a minor disagreement go, or remind yourself, “This isn’t my battle.”
But sometimes, it will be your battle. If your productivity, reputation, or job is on the line, you can’t afford to hide under your desk. Learning to navigate the very situations that make you want to bolt for the exit is a critical long-term lesson because these challenges will arise throughout your career.
You may not approach these situations the same way as another person or the same way described in this article and that’s OK. You must, however, figure out how to address them professionally and effectively so that your reputation remains intact, your productivity remains high, and your career trajectory continues on the path you desire. Once you’ve confronted the issue, you can break out those chips and reward yourself for maintaining a peaceful and productive frame of mind.
Photo of people at table courtesy of PeopleImages/Getty Images.