You’re minding your own business and enjoying an after-work cocktail at a happy hour with your co-workers, when all of a sudden you catch a glimpse of someone out of the corner of your eye. Your stomach jumps into your throat and you immediately turn the opposite direction before you’re noticed. It probably wasn’t the stealthiest reaction, but you panicked.
Whether it’s an ex-boss who’s still bitter about you leaving your old job or that obnoxious professional contact who won’t stop pestering you with messages and requests, you just spotted someone you really don’t want to see right now—let alone talk to. And, the entire awkward showdown is happening in an atmosphere where you need to keep your poise and wits about you—unless you want to look like a total high schooler in front of your colleagues.
Your first reaction might be to wonder whether anybody will notice if you slink away and sip your vodka gimlet in a bathroom stall for the rest of the evening. But, I assure you, there’s no need to go to extremes.
Yes, crossing paths with that cringe-worthy connection can be uncomfortable at best. But, there are a few helpful tips you can employ to make the entire experience a little less horrible. Curious? I’m here to help you out—but, no, that doesn’t mean I’ll bring you an appetizer plate in the bathroom.
1. Avoid Interaction if Possible
I’m not giving you a free pass to duck out of the event and into that stall that’s calling your name. But, I’m also not saying that you need to march up to that person and engage in a gauche—and probably a bit too firm—handshake with him or her right off the bat.
Instead, take a minute to evaluate the situation. Did you make direct eye contact and then immediately shift your gaze—meaning you’re both aware of the other one’s presence? Or, did you spot the person without being noticed?
If that awkward connection has no clue you’re actually there, you’re usually better off sticking to your side of the room for a while, or at least until an interaction proves to be completely unavoidable. Maybe you’ll luck out and that person will never become aware of your presence, meaning you can leave without ever having to deal with the tension!
Yes, it all seems a little juvenile. However, sometimes keeping your distance is your best option. After all, that seems a heck of a lot less childish than a bunch of terse, snide remarks thrown back and forth in the middle of a bar.
2. Be Polite and Professional
This should go without saying, but if you do end up needing to interact, you should do so while maintaining the utmost professionalism. No, you don’t need to wrap him in a bear hug or invite him to take a seat at your table. But, you should definitely offer a respectful handshake and a smile.
I can’t promise you that it will be the most easygoing and natural exchange you’ve ever had. But, making this effort avoids adding fuel to the fire and exacerbating any existing drama or hard feelings.
3. Don’t Ask Questions
During any sort of tense conversation, of course your goal should be to be as polite as possible. But, what’s your other objective? Keep things brief—as brief as you possibly can.
A surefire way to do this is to avoid asking any questions of your conversational partner. So, instead of using the standard greeting of, “Hey, what’s new at work?” try something short and sweet like, “Hey, nice to see you!”
Sure, maybe it’s a lie—after all, you really don’t want to see that person. But, that quick salutation sends the message that you recognize him or her, but you aren’t looking to participate in a lengthy discussion. Generally, the shorter you can keep your conversations, the better.
4. Make Sure You Have the Upper Hand
Yes, this sounds firm and slightly aggressive, doesn’t it? However, I’m definitely not suggesting that you rehash old issues and spark a screaming match in the middle of your get-together.
So, what exactly do I mean by this? Well, remain resolute in the way that you want to conduct yourself. You shouldn’t let that other person’s reaction—or even presence—dictate your behavior and attitude. Stick to your guns, don’t let that person get under your skin, and make an effort to carry on with your plans. The more you obsess over the situation, the worse it will get.
Running into someone you really don’t want to see is undeniably awkward. Believe me, I’ve been there—a few more times than I’d like.
While that situation will always be uncomfortable, handling yourself appropriately is the key to making it as painless as possible. Use these tips, and you’re well on your way to success and confidence—and not the bathroom stall.
Photo of upset woman courtesy of Shutterstock.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, productivity, and the freelance life. In addition to The Muse, she's a contributor all over the web and dishes out research-backed advice for places like Atlassian, Trello, Toggl, Wrike, The Everygirl, FlexJobs, and more. She's also an Employment Advisor at a local college, and loves helping students prepare to thrive in careers (and lives!) they love. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her two rescue mutts or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author