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October 1, 2012

Never Be at a Loss for Words Again

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Photo Credit: Warner Bros/Courtesy of Everett Collection

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You're an emotional wreck at work.

Your fiancé broke it off, a pet died, your rent check bounced. Whatever the crisis, you simply can't keep it together. What do you tell your boss when you're just plain losing it at your desk? If you can't work at home or take a few days off, level with your supervisor, says Joy Chen, CEO of Yes to Carrots cosmetics. But be a grown-up about it. "Come right out and tell your boss, 'I am going through something personal right now that's difficult for me to talk about. I will do my best at work, but if I am not performing, please call me out on it. I really appreciate your understanding and flexibility.'" If she presses, you may have to fess up the details — but be sure to save the weeping for the ladies' room and not her office.

You need to tell an employee she's dressed inappropriately.

Image is everything, and in these pinched economic times, companies are mindful of every situation that could compromise business, says Tara Lowenberg, founder of TLCommunications, a New York — based PR agency that reps Sonia Kashuk for Target, Oribe Hair Care, and other wellness and lifestyle brands. If an employee is dressed inappropriately, Lowenberg will pull her aside and say, "What you wear is a direct reflection of how you're perceived by coworkers and clients. So what do you want your clothes to say about you?" Be explicit about what's not working — cleavage, skirt length, a sheer top — and advise her on how you'd like the situation remedied. (Should she go home and change?) If the problem persists, send out an office-wide memo. "This way it's in writing and not directed toward one person, although they will most likely — or hopefully — know it pertains to them."

You're at a business lunch, desperately trying to stick to your diet.

You don't want to be that person — the one who asks the waiter 23 questions about the Greek salad, then orders steamed tilapia with lemon on the side. Diets happen. And you're entitled to eat what you want. But there's no need to harass the poor waiter or annoy your companions with your diva demands. Krista Vernoff, a Hollywood television writer (Private Practice, Grey's Anatomy) and coauthor of The Game On! Diet, suggests this approach: Study the menu beforehand (chances are it's online) and decide what you're going to order. When the time comes, do so quickly and confidently. If colleagues ask questions, avoid the word diet, as "it triggers weirdness in everyone," Vernoff says. Instead, say,"I'm on a new health kick. I'm sure it'll be over next week."If you keep it light, you'll impress your business associates without guilting them for diving into the bread basket.

You spammed the office with an e-mail not intended for general consumption.

Whether it was your new favorite meme blog or a photo of your Blake Shelton tramp stamp, that e-mail wasn't something the SVP or mail room supervisor really needed to see. Resist the urge to spam everyone with an apology. "That will only keep the embarrassment top of mind," says Jodi Glickman, author of Great on the Job: What to Say, How to Say It: The Secrets of Getting Ahead. Instead, apologize via e-mail and in person to your supervisor or management team. Glickman suggests the note goes something like this:I am terribly sorry about that e-mail that just went out. That was clearly inappropriate and not meant for the office. This will never happen again. "Make it clear you're both remorseful and aware of the repercussions, that you take the issue seriously, and you've learned a lesson the hard way."

Someone interrupts you in the middle of an important point during a meeting.

You're in a groove, building up to your big finish, when a colleague jumps in and hijacks the floor. You can't let it go or "you'll just be steamrolled," says Jen Bekman, a tech exec turned gallery owner and founder of 20x200. On the other hand, trying to wrench the conversation back may come off as aggressive. The trick here is polite assertion. If there's no obvious opening, wait until he's stopped talking, then say, "Can you give me a moment to finish my thought? I wasn't quite done yet."To avoid these awkward moments in the first place, practice defensive speaking. "If you formulate your thought and have a confident cadence, you reduce the chances that someone else might interrupt you," Bekman says.


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