In honor of National Awkward Moments Day, on March 18, 2017, we discuss several situations that cause people to find themselves in awkward positions, from celebrities to business professionals and how to recover from them.
Whether you’re feeling like Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards when Kanye West interrupted her acceptance speech, Steve Harvey when he announced on live television the wrong Miss Universe winner in 2015, or Warren Beatty announcing the wrong Best Picture winner at the Academy Awards this year, awkward professional moments happen to everyone! Unfortunately, sometimes they tend to happen in a professional business setting.
Recover quickly like Madonna did when she fell on stage in the middle of a concert. Be prepared to respond in a professional manner in the presence of colleagues and leadership, cutting your embarrassing moment short. The following are popular work-related awkward moments and tips on how to save yourself from being the talk of the office for an entire month:
- Referring to Someone by the Wrong Name in An Interview or Anytime Imagine walking into an interview and saying “Hello, Perry” instead of “Hello, Pat” to your interviewer. Or vice versa, having your interviewee walk in and calling them the name of the last person you just interviewed. Not the best first impression! Ease the awkwardness by apologizing immediately, and admit that you made a mistake. Depending on organizational or event culture, consider a little humor about how you were so immersed in preparations, you misspoke.
- Saying ”Nice to Meet You” to Someone You’ve Already Met Before Having a conversation with someone in the elevator and as your floor approaches you say, “Nice to meet you.” Not only does the person exit the elevator on the same floor as you, but replies “Oh, we already met last week, don’t you remember?” The best way to get out of this one is to apologize and blame it on yourself. Next time, refrain from using the term “Nice to meet you” and instead say “Nice to see you” which keeps the encounter on the safe side.
- Being Present During Gossip If you are in a conversation when a participant begins making rude comments, remember just by listening you run the risk of being held accountable for “participating.” So speak up when someone says “I’ll ruin her.” Avoid being associated with any conversation that may land you in deep yogurt with leadership.
Whether it’s a friend or a colleague, feel free to say, “My apologies, I don’t agree at all and I’ll be leaving this conversation.” It might feel slightly uncomfortable at the time; but these things have a way of circling back. If the conversation is recounted at a later date, and your name isn’t mentioned, you’ll be thankful you excused yourself.
- Spilling a Drink at a Professional Dinner Whether you’re reaching over to get the salt or you’re extending your arm for a handshake across the table and your drink spills in the process, spilling a glass all over your dinner guest can not only cause a very awkward moment, but put you in an uncomfortable position for the rest of the dinner. The best action is to take precautions as soon as you are seated – place your glass far from you or your colleagues arm range, if you are to get up check your surroundings first and if something is out of your reach politely ask for it to be passed to you.
However, accidents happen. If your drink does spill, immediately apologize to the table and use your napkin to stop the leak from spreading. If it spilled on your colleague, offer your napkin to them instead of invading their personal space by cleaning them yourself. Simultaneously look for the waiter to bring more napkins.
Sometimes things do not go as plan and may make you feel like running and hiding. Find the ability to learn and laugh at those moments; they happen to everyone professional or not.
Sharon Schweitzer and Paola Guevara co-wrote this post. Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and the National Business Journals. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.
Paola Guevara is a Spring 2017 Cross-Cultural Communication intern with Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. She’s lived in Mexico, France, and different states throughout the United States, including California, Florida, and Texas. She currently attends St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas studying International Business with a focus in French. Connect with her via Linkedin.