MT Special: What Not To Say 2

The second instalment of author Mark Vernon's ten tips on how to deal with awkward office situations.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Office life places people cheek-by-jowl. Often, the intimacy is good, nurturing personal friendships and professional success. But it can also bring surprises – sometimes hilarious, sometimes grave. Mark Vernon looks at ten difficult moments: what’s at stake, and how should you react?

3. Toilets

Much of the time, the intimacy of office life is entirely manageable. But there is one location where it may get edgy: the toilets.

I know someone who is – how shall I put it – ‘regular as clockwork’. Many might count that as a blessing. The trouble for him is that nature calls every morning at precisely 10am.

Soon, he thought, his colleagues were waiting for him to wend his way to the gents quite as attentively as they watched the clock for lunch. When he got there, his anxiety rose again, because he bumped into others whose metabolic cycles were similarly in sync.

Then he read an article in a magazine. It described how celebrities who make regular journeys vary their route in order to avoid the security risk of being predictable. A choice of three alternatives is all it takes to break the pattern and foil the threat. He quickly established different routes to the toilets.

4. Multishirking

You may not know what this means, but you will have done it. Multishirking is when you have two or more screens open on your desktop. One is MySpace or Facebook. Another is some celebrity gossip site. The third is the company intranet. Why the third? If the boss comes near, you can flick to it quickly.

But there’s another reason. These days, many large companies have systems that monitor the websites people visit in worktime. If you are apparently in several places at once, and at least one is legitimate, the system won’t be able to find you out: you may have signed onto Facebook at the start of the day and forgotten to log out before, of course, turning to more serious business.


We'll be revealing two more top tips every day this week. And for more of the same, check out Mark’s latest book, What Not To Say, which is published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Practical steps for breaking silos

Briefing: Adam Williams, former CEO of influencer marketing agency Takumi, shares what he learned about...

The Power 50: Part-time, full throttle

How to do a top job part time.

The 9 worst things a leader can say

Actions may speak louder than words, but words can still drop you in it.

Why you overvalue your own ideas

And why you shouldn't.

When spying on your staff backfires

As Barclays' recently-scrapped tracking software shows, snooping on your colleagues is never a good idea....

A CEO’s guide to smart decision-making

You spend enough time doing it, but have you ever thought about how you do...