How to Handle Sticky Situations
Tactical tips and talking points that can help you survive an awkward social scenario.
The Etiquette of Awkward Interactions
Situation: A stranger walks by with his zipper down or arugula in his teeth.
Solution: In many cases, it’s not your place to step in. “If you’re in a large group or the person is the CEO of the company, you don’t have to say anything,” says Jodi R. Smith, president of Mannersmith, an etiquette consulting firm based in Boston. However, if the faux pas is truly mortifying and no one is acting to correct it, look for a moment when the person is alone and quietly mention the problem. But always take care to distinguish between those times when a “flaw” can be fixed (such as toilet paper stuck to a shoe) and when it can’t or might be intentional (a blouse that’s too sheer).
Situation: You run into someone whose last few phone calls you never returned.
Solution: Accentuate the positive. Saying “Oh, I know you’ve been calling, and now you’ve tracked me down” will only remind the person of the slight. Instead, flash a big smile and say “How lucky to run into you! It saves me the phone call I’ve been meaning to make,” suggests Shannon Donnelly, the society columnist for the Palm Beach Daily News. If you have been meaning to schedule a lunch or a coffee date with the person but haven’t had the time to do so, ask if she has time to stop for coffee right then, or pull out your calendar on the spot and make a plan to get together soon, says Smith. However, if you feel that you owe the person a conversation and nothing more, Smith adds, simply “take three minutes to give her your full attention.” Ask about her new job, her family, or anything of a personal nature that shows you are interested. “Then close the interaction,” says Smith. “Say ‘It was great to bump into you. Have a good day,’" and move on with your life.
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