Let’s face it: we all make fools of ourselves sometimes. However, if you think about it, what most of us remember long after the deeds are done aren’t the details, but rather how we reacted. Did you storm out of the room on the heels of a scolding? Tell someone off when criticized for a mistake? Burst into tears rather than simply accepting responsibility? Next time something bad happens (particularly in the cases where you’ve brought it on yourself), try these coping strategies.
Don’t Get Rattled
Okay, so you did or said the wrong thing or got called out for a mistake. Your inclination may be to freak out — placing blame, cursing yourself or otherwise falling apart, but you will be much better served down the road (in the eyes of others and in the way you see yourself) if you can remain calm and rational. Doing so not only results in better handling of the immediate situation, but it erases the awkwardness for anyone unlucky enough to be witness to your foible or folly. It helps you come across as mature, responsible and willing to take responsibility.
Let Irony Save Face
If staying calm is difficult — or if you simply don’t know what to say — a little bit of irony goes a long way when put in a compromising position. Translation? Humor is a surefire way to diffuse tension and illustrate that recognize your mistake. So, if you’re feeling something negative (embarrassment, regret, shame) say the opposite. No one will be able to miss the gap between what you’re experiencing and what you’re saying, and you’ll create the feeling that you know how to laugh at yourself (even if you’re forcing it a little). That said, it’s also vital that you …
Know the Difference Between Self-Deprecation and Self-Defeat
If you go too far with the ironic comments or lay it on too thick, you may be misconstrued as being insincere, not taking your slip up seriously or fishing for compliments. So save yourself and your audience further embarrassment by sticking to one or two choice self-stingers and be sure you know the difference between taking (or giving yourself) a good-natured ribbing and completely ripping yourself to shreds. The latter will only make everyone else more uncomfortable and reinforce any self-doubt you may be feeling in the heat of the moment (and long afterward).
Accept Responsibility … And Move on
Finally, nothing is worse than making a scene or starting an argument in public. Even if you don’t necessarily think that whatever happened is actually your fault, better to move through things quickly with a snappy comment and a smile in the moment. Wait to deal with the other person (or persons) later on in private. Do not try and hash out your disagreements in a crowded room where everyone else is captive. If a quip is out of the question (or after you make one), quickly suggest shelving the discussion for another time and move on to more pressing matters. Everyone will thank you later — even if they don’t do it out loud.
Ultimately, being likable in tough situations is about being able to read them. Put yourself in the shoes of the other people around you and act accordingly, considering how you’d feel if you were in their positions. Empathy, like irony, can do wonders in uncomfortable situations.