5 Scary Work Situations and How to Navigate Them

When work is going well, you have normal stresses to deal with—deadlines, irksome colleagues, difficult clients. But throughout our career, we all face circumstances that take stress to the next level. When you're faced with one of these, it can be challenging to know where to turn or what to do. Keep this tips in mind if you're faced with one of these five “scary” work situations.

scary work situaitons

1. Delivering bad news to your boss

We’ve all been there: Your big project (or the boss’s pet project) is not performing to expectations. You need to loop your manager in before someone else does. Start by making sure the timing is right. Request to meet with your supervisor—and if you typically just pop in to your supervisor’s office, ask if it’s a good time. Delivering bad news when someone is distracted rarely goes well.

Once you have your supervisor’s attention, get right to business and say, “I have some bad news regarding [insert project name here].” Be factual and concise, don’t be emotional, and if you should take responsibility, do.

Remember: If you own up to a mistake early on, the mistake is generally easier to fix—and bosses will trust you more.

2. Managing a huge project when you aren’t sure you’re ready

At first, you celebrated when you were named point person for that big research project. But it’s time to get started, and you’d like to run for the hills. Don’t panic. Instead, take a deep breath, stay positive, and start out small. Begin by breaking the overall project into small, manageable pieces, and then assess the resources you have around you.

Once you’ve completed one of these smaller project chunks, evaluate how it went—and ask your teammates and supervisor for feedback. Once you’ve gotten started, the project will seem less daunting.

3. Informing your supervisor you want an internal transfer

You like your company—so much that you’d like your next career opportunity to be in another department. How do you tell your current supervisor? Make your manager an ally in your career path.

Ask to meet with your supervisor to discuss your next steps, and start by expressing how grateful you are for your manager’s mentorship and the opportunities you’ve received. Then, let your supervisor know you’re interested in applying for a role on another team. (In most companies, internal candidates are required to let their supervisors know they plan to apply for an internal transfer as part of the application process.)

Ask for your supervisor’s support, and express how committed you are to a smooth transition should you receive the position. Commit to documenting processes and training your replacement—and then live up to that commitment.

4. Telling a coworker to stop distracting you

It’s important to develop good rapport with your colleagues, and having work-appropriate friendships makes office life more pleasant, but we’ve all been faced with the overly chatty coworker. The nice guy at the next workstation can’t stop recapping his weekend—and the open-concept office isn’t helping matters.

When you don’t want to be rude but need to get to work, be polite but direct. Say you’d love to catch up, but you need to focus and be productive. If you really do want to catch up, offer to join the coworker for a coffee break or even lunch—any social setting with a defined time period. Another tip: When the chatty colleague starts talking, break in quickly, and say, “Hey, before we get to talking, I want to let you to know I have a hard stop at [insert time].” Then make sure to excuse yourself at the identified time.

5. Supervising your former teammates

The good news is, you’ve been promoted. The bad news is, you must supervisor your former teammates—the same people you used to vent with about the boss. Your relationship dynamics are forever changed, and you must accept the new reality. The best move you can make is to establish yourself within your new peer group. Colleagues at the same level as you will understand your challenges and your vantage point, and they might even have some tips about navigating your new team dynamics.

Each of these situations will push you outside your comfort zone, but once you’ve successfully handled one “scary” situation, the next will be more manageable. You’ve got this.

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