Think back to when you were at school. Most of the time, you probably enjoyed learning new things and having fun with your friends.
However, you almost certainly encountered some cringeworthy, embarrassing moments.
Like the time when a teacher asked you a simple question in front of the class – but you answered it wrongly. Your classmates began sniggering, before quickly shifting to uncontrollable laughter! Despite the teacher telling them to be quiet, the damage was done. You made yourself look like a fool in front of your class. And your obvious embarrassment was written all over your face.
On an subconscious level, this frightful experience is likely to be still impacting you today.
Most of the embarrassing moments that plague our lives fall into six categories:
1. Privacy. You’re getting changed in your bedroom when someone opens the door without knowing you are there. As you’re only half dressed – you’re hugely embarrassed by the incident.
2. Lack of knowledge and skill. You’re feeling confident that your interview for a dream job is going well. Suddenly, however, you’ve been posed a question about a skill you’ve listed on your resume. The interviewer knows a lot about the skill, and it’s clear that you don’t!
3. Criticism and rejection. You’ve gone to your local bank to see if you can arrange a car loan. The adviser spends a long time collating your financial details and asking you questions about your intended car purchase. After 30 minutes with you, the adviser says that everything looks okay, but she just needs to run a credit check. It was all going well until then. Unfortunately, the credit check reveals that you’re not entitled to a loan from the bank. You feel defeated and embarrassed.
4. Awkward acts. Your friend has just bought a new apartment, and they’ve asked you to come along to their housewarming party. You turn up with a bottle of wine and some chocolates. The party is going great until disaster strikes… You’ve knocked over your glass of red wine, and it’s spilled all over the pure white carpet. Awkward, for sure!
5. Appropriate image. You’ve been invited to a theatre show by some work colleagues. You casually agreed to go, without paying too much attention to what the show was all about. On show day, you agree to meet your colleagues outside the theater. You’re running a little late, but that’s not the worst of it. When you arrive, you immediately see that everyone is dressed formally – and you’re in jeans and T-shirt. (That’s the last time you went to the opera!)
6. Environment. You’re a teenager. And you’re watching a movie at home with your parents. Between the drama and the action, the movie is proving to be a compelling watch. However… out of the blue, a graphic ‘adult’ scene begins to take place. It’s not just you that’s embarrassed by this – your parents clearly are too!
Have you noticed that embarrassment hits most of us hard, but some people seem much more resilient?
I’m sure you’ve seen it happen. A young waiter is carrying several plates of food, but unfortunately trips and falls. The food goes everywhere, and the plates are smashed to smithereens. What could be more embarrassing than this? However, he looks completely unruffled by the incident, and instead, begins to calmly clean up the mess from the floor.
Impressive, for sure.
People who appear immune to embarrassment have a different mental outlook to most of us.
Firstly, they tend to be very self-confident people, who don’t easily feel shame or humiliation. They have powerful self-belief, and don’t allow themselves to be knocked down for long.
Secondly, they have a different perspective on mistakes. While you may regard mistakes as a bad thing, the ’embarrassment-immune’ minority sees mistakes as vital learning cues.
So, how can you become more like the above people?
Let’s start with the everyday embarrassing moments we all face and how we can tackle them.
Here are some of the most common embarrassing moments, and the best ways you can handle them.
Having your debit/credit card declined at a store…
It’s horrifying. You feel that you’ve been immediately judged by the people in the store.
Counteract this by looking and sounding confident, and saying something along the lines of: “My mistake, that card has actually expired. Here, please use this valid one.”
Falling on a treadmill…
This is both dangerous to your physical body – and to your ego!
If you’re unfortunate to fall while using a treadmill, firstly, be sure to check that you’re not physically injured. If you’re okay, then you might want to make a joke about the incident with other gym members. You could say: “I think I was too quick for the treadmill!”
Asking if someone is pregnant – when they’re not…
This has happened to several of my colleagues and friends. They thought someone was pregnant, when really they had just put on weight (especially around the stomach area).
This scenario is humiliating for the person being asked, and hugely embarrassing for the person doing the asking.
My recommendation is to profusely apologize to the person in question, and then explain that you thought you’d heard that she was pregnant. Something like: “Oh, I’m sorry. The gossip in the office was that you were expecting. I’ll make sure the gossip stops.”
Listening to your stomach making groaning noises while you’re in a quiet meeting…
This happened to me. I’d skipped breakfast and was existing purely on coffee. However, my stomach clearly was expecting something more. I went into a meeting that was quiet (bordering on silent), and my stomach decided to make an appearance. Despite my best efforts, the groaning became louder and louder. Let’s just say, that I was relieved when the meeting was finally over!
This scenario can be dealt with in several ways.
Firstly, make sure that before going into a quiet zone (church, meeting, theater, etc.) that you’ve eaten a decent amount of food. Secondly, if your stomach has begun to make noises, you could choose to excuse yourself from the gathering and then quickly eat something. Lastly, if the noise from your stomach is not too bad, you could apologize to those around you by saying: “Sorry, I didn’t realize I was so hungry.”
Failing to open a door correctly…
I’m sure you’ve done this. Pulling a door when it should be pushed – or pushing a door when it should be pulled. It’s always a little embarrassing to do this, even though it happens frequently to most of us.
I’ve discovered a trick that prevents me from making this mistake. Before opening a door, I have a quick glance at the hinges at the top of the door. In most cases, this reveals which way the door opens.
However, if you still fail to open a door correctly, then redirect the attention away from you, by saying: “This door should really be marked with push and pull signs.”
Realizing that you have coffee stains on your pants…
This happens to all of us from time to time. It can be coffee, tea or even chocolate. But the results are the same, an embarrassing stain on your pants – that you may not have even known about.
Practical ways to resolve this include changing your pants, or attempting to wipe off the offending stain.
From a psychological point of view, try to see this episode as nothing more than a humorous incident. It can be embarrassing – but it can also be funny. It’s purely dependent on your perspective. To make people laugh about it, say something like: “I might have to start wearing nappies again!”
Discovering that your phone is not on silent during an interview…
I remember my brother telling me a story about someone who interviewed at his company. The interviewee not only forgot to put his phone on silent – but actually took the call during the interview. He proceeded to speak with the caller for several minutes… while the interviewers looked on in amazement.
This guy wasn’t embarrassed (but he should have been!), but for most ordinary folks, a cellphone ringing during an interview is a nightmare scenario. It can make you look bad, and instantly knock your confidence.
Deal with this situation by always double-checking that your phone is on silent. If necessary, turn off your phone completely.
If the worst happens, then you need to move into damage limitation mode. You could apologize by saying: “I’m so sorry about that. I was sure I had put my phone on silent, but it appears that I was mistaken.”
Forgetting someone’s name when introducing them…
Have you experienced this issue in your life before? Unless you have a super-powered memory, then I’m sure you have.
If you can’t remember someone’s name when introducing them, then you have a couple of choices. You could say: “This is a colleague of mine from the Finance Department.” Alternatively, you could apologize for your memory loss, and say: “I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten your name – can you remind me please?”
Deal with any potential embarrassment by not allowing your memory loss to destroy your self-confidence. You can also put the incident into perspective. (Forgetting a name is a relatively trivial matter.)
Finding out that your shirt is covered in sweat patches…
The air conditioning in your office can’t handle the heat on a particularly hot day. Despite applying your usual antiperspirant, you’ve started to sweat profusely – and it’s now showing through your shirt.
This can definitely be embarrassing, as personal hygiene is expected in modern society.
What to do? Well, if you’re lucky enough to have a spare shirt, then you could change into this. You could also go home early, if homeworking is an option.
If you have to stay in the office with your sweat-stained shirt, then you’ll need to deal with it. Do this by stating to others that the office is so hot that it’s started to make you sweat (i.e., this is not a personal problem). You could say: “Crikey! It’s incredibly hot in here. I hardly ever sweat, but right now I’m feeling the effects of the heat.”
Choking on your food…
Picture going on a first date. You’ve spent several hours showering and grooming yourself. (You want to look and smell great.) You meet your prospective partner at the chosen restaurant, and both of you relax into some friendly conversation. Your food order arrives, and you take your first few bites… It could be nervousness or stress, but either way, the food goes down the wrong pipe – and you find yourself choking!
Definitely not the best look on a first date.
You could avoid this by making sure that you’re as relaxed as possible during the meal. You could even take smaller bites, and chew for longer than usual.
If it’s happened, and you’re choking on your food, the first thing is to clear the blockage. Once this is resolved, you need to find a way to overcome the embarrassment. Do this by making a joke of the incident: “That’ll teach me for being greedy!”
Embarrassing moments are waiting in the wings to spring upon you at the most unexpected times. However, once you begin to practice the tried and tested ways of dealing with embarrassment, then you’ll no longer fear these situations.
|||^||Withers, Lesley; Sherblom, John. “Embarrassment: The Communication of an Awkward Actor Anticipating a Negative Evaluation”|