By Diane Gottsman, modern manners and etiquette expert, and author of “Pearls of Polish, An Etiquette Guide for Today’s Busy Woman“
Delivering a speech to an auditorium full of attendees, conducting an important meeting with a client, or hosting a business meal with potential clients – these are some of the scenarios where you want to be sure to present your most polished and professional persona. But, what if you don’t? What if during one of those scenarios you mistakenly do the exact opposite and end up in an incredibly embarrassing and uncomfortable situation. How do you handle it?
Embarrassing moments happen to all of us and it is the way that you handle that moment that sets you apart from the rest.
Here are seven key tips for how to handle any awkward moment, with grace:
1. Do not overreact.
When faced with embarrassment, overreacting can, and probably will, make the situation much worse. Simply attend to the situation the best way you can under the circumstances, doing your best to pull it off with poise and humility.
2. Act natural.
An authentic smile and a shrug are great ways to respond to an uncomfortable situation. It is important to show that when you do make mistakes, even embarrassing ones, that you can handle it. In fact, an uneasy moment handled properly can be endearing and could make others like you even a bit more than they would have, because it shows you are human.
3. Don’t share the shameful story on social media.
Even if you think it is an extremely funny story, posting an embarrassing picture on social media could hurt you professionally and is not in your best interest. You may have spilled a glass of red wine on your coworker at lunch but your client certainly does not need to see it!
4. Turn the embarrassing situation into a positive one.
I was once about to go onstage to speak and my shoe got caught in the carpet. I fell completely down to the floor, in full site of all of the attendees. After a few seconds of shock I jumped up, looked across the room at the faces staring at me and I said, “Today we will be talking about awkward moments!” Huge laughs are all I heard across the room. I may have had a bleeding knee, but because of how I handled the stumble, it was a comfortable and genuine recovery.
5. Don’t force funny.
An uncomfortable situation can actually hold its own weight. It’s often best to show your feelings, compose yourself, and if it all possible continue on with your business meeting, presentation, or business meal. The last thing you want to do is make others even more uncomfortable by watching you squirm with forced and nervous laughter. Let it come naturally or not at all.
6. Embarrassing moments can prove your true character.
Blaming someone else for tripping you, for example, or screaming at friend for not telling you that you had toilet paper on the heel of your shoe only exacerbates the situation. Saying, “I’m sorry for tripping into you – I hope I didn’t hurt you” versus “It was the cracked sidewalk’s fault,” is more palatable to those who are watching. It happened, you were embarrassed, it’s over, move on.
7. Stop reliving the embarrassing moment.
It’s not necessary to continue to talk about an awkward moment, constantly bringing attention to it. If you spill a glass of liquid at the table of a business meal, for example, simply place your napkin over the spill, attend to a fellow guest that might have gotten wet, apologize and allow the wait staff to take it from there. You can certainly make a light joke of it at the end of the night, but don’t dwell on it.
Keep these tips in mind if a wardrobe malfunction, pieces of food stuck in your teeth, or worse, happens to you, at precisely the wrong time. Don’t let the embarrassing mistake define you. Show your confidence and ability to simply handle it in stride.
Diane Gottsman is a national modern manners and etiquette expert, sought out industry leader, accomplished speaker, author and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in executive leadership and etiquette training. Her clients range from university students to Fortune 500 companies, and her seminars cover topics ranging from tattoos in the workplace to technology at the dinner table and the proper use of social media. She is author of “Pearls of Polish, An Etiquette Guide for Today’s Busy Woman“.