Sunday’s Academy Awards will be remembered for a lot of things, but perhaps the biggest moment of the night is the one we can’t stop talking about today: Those awkward few minutes when everyone realized that Moonight was the true winner of Best Picture—not La La Land, as had previously been announced.
The emotions onstage, and in the audience, ranged from joy to confusion to disappointment, and some people (like poor Warren Beatty) were definitely feeling some major regret and embarrassment. It’s still unclear what exactly happened, but we do know one thing: Once the mistake was realized, most of the people involved handled the agonizing situation with compassion and dignity.
La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz interrupted his colleagues’ speeches to correct the mistake, saying he was “really proud to hand this to my friends from Moonlight.” Beatty also stepped up to the microphone to attempt an explanation and apology.
While most of us won’t be erroneously accepting an Oscar anytime soon, we’ve all had our fair share of awkward public moments that have the potential to lead to embarrassment, hurt feelings, and damaged relationships. So in the spirit of last night’s award-winning performance for Most Embarrassing Moment, we asked Steven Meyers, PhD, a professor of psychology at Roosevelt University in Chicago, for his tips on what to do in situations like these.
The first rule of thumb, says Meyers, is to admit when a mistake has been made. “We prolong periods of awkwardness when we pretend that issues don’t exist, when others know that they do,” he says. “Sometimes this means admitting fault, but other times it can merely mean acknowledging that the situation exists.”
Acknowledging the mistake “allows us to start the process of moving through it,” adds Meyers. (Score one point for Horowitz, Beatty, and everyone else who rushed into action.)
Next, he says, it’s important to remember that most onlookers aren’t nearly as invested in your embarrassing moment as you are. “Other people will quickly shift focus to themselves and their own lives,” he says. Most of the time, he adds, we’ll relive those experiences ourselves for much longer than anyone else remembers them. Yes, he says, even when that awkward moment is on TV or all over the news.
If your awkward situation is the result of a mistake you made, own up to it—and if you owe someone an apology, make it sincere. And if it results in major embarrassment or disappointment for you, try to think about the grand scheme of things.
“This speaks to the importance of understanding our positive experiences and our blessings,” says Meyers. “I think the La La Land producers understood how many awards they’d already won, so it put the embarrassment in perspective and allowed them to respond really graciously. That may hold true for us, too: We are not defined by our losses or our most embarrassing experiences.”
Regardless of whether two or 2,000 (or, you know, 2 million) people are watching—and whether you’re at fault or not—it’s normal for an embarrassing experience to feel really distressing, says Meyers. “Sometimes we need to be able to talk ourselves down from feeling anxious afterward,” he says; “we need to distract ourselves, or draw on friends and family for reassurance and support.” Getting enough sleep, eating well, and keeping a regular exercise routine are also especially important for coping during periods of loss or embarrassment, he adds.
Finally, once you’re past the initial knee-jerk-reaction stage, it can help to examine at all sides of the issue—including the bright side. You may even be able to find some humor in it, like Horowitz did a few hours later. "Hey, I won the Oscar for best picture. I got to thank my wife and kids,” he told CNN this morning. “And then I got to present the Oscar for best picture! Not many people can say that.”