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Four challenging work situations
and how to handle them.
BY KATE MATSUDAIRA
HAVE YOU EVER been in a situation where you are
presenting to your manager or your manager’s
manager and you completely flub the opportunity
by saying all the wrong things? Me too. It is from
such encounters that I started to put together design
patterns for handling these difficult situations. I like
to think in systems and patterns, so applying this way of thinking to communication just makes sense. I have also
found these rules of thumb are useful to
others, so I would like to share them here.
When you can spot the patterns, you
can use some of the ideas presented
here as guidelines to navigate these
tricky, high-stress scenarios. This way
you can feel confident and capable as
a leader because you will know what to
do: how to solve the problem and what
steps to follow next.
Here are some of the most common
challenging situations you may run into
at work and how you can handle them.
1. Someone asks you something
you don’t know.
You are in a meeting (where you know
you are expected to know all the an-
swers) when someone asks a question
of you, and you just aren’t certain of
Sure, the obvious answer is to say,
“I don’t know.” But what if the person
asking you that question is a customer?
What if that person is your VP? What
if you are interviewing for a new role?
Suddenly, the stakes are raised and you
just don’t want to say, “I don’t know.”
You don’t want to look uninformed or
unprofessional. All of a sudden there
is social pressure to be the person with
the right answer.
In the moment, the desire to say
anything but “I don’t know” is so overwhelming that you may end up making up something on the spot, trying to
be as vague as possible so you can’t be
wrong. But—as you know if someone
has done this to you—it’s usually obvious to the other people in the room
that you don’t know the answer, and