• Entrepreneurship

How to Handle Awkward Work Situations: Advice from Etiquette Expert Sunita Padda

Futurpreneur | March 28, 2018

It can be hard to navigate the business world as a young professional. From your body language to your communication style, there are so many ways for small interactions to be misinterpreted and potentially hurt your career, which can affect your confidence both in and out of the workplace.

How do I communicate with coworkers’ after hours? How should I conduct myself in investor meetings? What should I order when being treated to a lunch?

If you think you’re alone in asking yourself these questions, you’re not! Whether you’re just starting out in your career or starting your own business, many people are concerned about making the right moves to build and maintain healthy work relationships.

Fortunately, that’s why we connected with etiquette expert and TableSmarts founder, Sunita Padda to get her insight into some awkward work situations and how to handle them.

1. Tell me a bit about yourself and your background.

I’m a B.C. certified Masters level teacher and have been teaching for the past 10 years. Coming from a British background, my parents always taught my sister and I proper table manners from a young age. I was surprised, then, to see how many children lacked these skills once I started teaching in the classroom.

It was at this point that I decided I wanted to be a part of something that focused on manners for kids. My family and I travelled to London, England where I completed a course on Social and Dining Etiquette. Since then, I have been teaching corporate and kids courses at the Terminal City Club and Vancouver Golf Club.

2. Tell me more about your business.

TableSmarts started out as my passion project and has since grown to be so much more. I teach adults, corporate groups, and children social and dining etiquette. Having a strong education background allows me to customize my programs and use effective teaching techniques to engage my students whether they are an 8-year-old child, or an adult in the corporate world.

My goal is to be friendly and approachable. Etiquette has unfortunately received a reputation of being stuffy and intimidating. Learning how to conduct ourselves in a way that makes everyone around us feel comfortable shouldn’t be something that is feared.

3. How have traditional etiquette rules changed in 2018?

Original rules aren’t changing as much as new trends have to be considered. For example, voicemail etiquette is something that I focus less on and has quickly been replaced with text messaging etiquette. Technological advances and lifestyle changes are things that need to be considered in order for etiquette to remain relevant in today’s world.

4. Navigating the business world can be tough for young entrepreneurs and professionals alike. What advice would you give for handling the following situations:

I want to be able to communicate with my colleagues on a more casual level, what’s the etiquette around texting?

You want to ensure that texts used for work-related communication are carried out only after rapport has been established. Furthermore, if it is work-related, you want to ensure that it requires an immediate response, otherwise, leave it in an email. People generally don’t want to receive work-related messages to their phone unless it is absolutely necessary.

I’m feeling nervous about attending my staff office party, especially since I don’t socialize with colleagues often. Do I have to go? 

Yes! As much as you might prefer to skip out on a work-related event, it’s important to understand how much your presence (or absence) can affect the culture of your workplace. Your company has taken the time to put together an event for staff, and it would be considered rude to not attend. Plus, making the effort to socialize with work colleagues will only make your time at work more enjoyable.

I have been invited out for a lunch by an investor and feel nervous about what and how to order. Any suggestions? 

When you are the guest, it’s important to keep your ordering on pace with your host. If they order a starter, feel comfortable to do the same. Further, keep your selections at a median price level (unless your host urges you to order something more expensive). Ordering the least expensive can make you seem uncomfortable, while ordering the most expensive item can make your host feel as though you are taking advantage of their gesture. Finally, be sure to thank your host. Thanking them at the end of your lunch is important, but also the following day

I feel nervous attending networking events. How can I confidently socialize with others and make the most out of these events?  

Treat a networking event like it’s your own party! Playing “host” can help take the focus off what you’re supposed to be doing – and allows you to socialize more naturally. For example, ask people if they have had a chance to meet some of your colleagues or check to see if anyone would like another drink. Further, when you are socializing, try and keep your group formation in more of a “U” shape. The opening is a signal to others that they are welcome to join your conversation. Standing in a closed “O” shape, can give a cliquey signal.

About Sunita
Sunita Padda is a B.C. certified educator and has been trained in dining etiquette by Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick of The Etiquette School of New York. Further, she has recently been educated by Tamiko Zablith in The Art of The Table at the world-renowned Minding Manners School in London, England. As a University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University graduate, she has recently completed a Masters in Professional Education in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Western Ontario.

Written by: Sara Pivato, Social Media & Content Coordinator, Futurpreneur Canada