Handling rude questions and awkward moments
Anyone can be the object of rudeness and thoughtlessness.
Because I am a writer of books and columns, and because I have lectured, appeared on radio and television, I am sometimes recognized in public. I’m glad I’m not more recognizable, as along with the kind comments, gratitude, and praise I receive from so many people, others feel compelled to criticize, often mean-spiritedly, and often without even having read the book or column they’re criticizing. Therefore, I have been forced to learn how to deal with negative comments, even when they are mean and meant to hurt me. Since we are all criticized from time to time, you may find the following ideas helpful.
How you handle an uncomfortable situation depends on whether or not you’re setting boundaries. Most situations can be handled with polite firmness. Sometimes it’s hard to know how to say “no thanks” and make it stick.
If you say “no thanks” a few times, then nicely tell the person that you don’t like what they are doing, that it makes you feel uncomfortable, and that they still don’t understand you, then you need to sit down and tell them that you won’t let them do that to you.
For example, if a friend makes rude or intrusive comments about your age, you can politely say, “Your comment makes me feel uncomfortable,” or “I appreciate that you think I look good, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t comment on my age.” If that doesn’t work, then have a talk. He says, “When you ask questions about my age, you make me unhappy and hurt my feelings.” If that doesn’t make things better, then you should give that person a “time out”: remove yourself from personal contact and be very courteous when you see them. He or she will get the message loud and clear. Maybe your friend will ask you “Are you mad at me?” and then you can describe what the problem is.
Here are some potential awkward moments and how to handle them.
• You meet someone and you have forgotten their name, so you cannot introduce them to your partner.
This is easily handled with prior agreement with your partner. My husband knows if I don’t introduce him right away to say “Hello, this is Richard. I didn’t catch your name.” So I can say “Oh, sorry, I didn’t realize you two had never met.” However, he can take the direct approach. “Sorry, I have forgotten your name.” Or, if you’re my age, you can say, “Please forgive me, I’m going through a coming-of-age moment and I can’t remember your name.”
• You’re gossiping about someone in the office bathroom and she comes out of the cubicle.
All you can do is say, “I’m sorry. That was rude of me.” But you can never get it back. That’s why gossip is a very bad idea. Best solution; stop gossiping; it only hurts you and everyone else. Second best: Save the gossip for a private time and place and don’t let your mouth run. If you gossip in a public area, you never know if a friend or relative of the subject of your gossip is listening.
• You go on a blind date and don’t like what you see.
I suggest, for all blind dates or online hookups, that a friend or family member call you a few minutes after the date begins. You can ignore the call if you’re having fun, or you can say “OMG! I’ll be there.” on the phone and declare a family emergency. Or, you can spend a few minutes over a cup of coffee, then say, “Sorry, I don’t think we’re a good match. Thank you very much.” and leave. Don’t go on blind dates for some complicated or expensive matter; have a coffee date first. You should always have your own transportation to a first blind date, and you should not have a stranger at your home. Meet for coffee somewhere public.
• Your babysitter asks you for a raise that you think you don’t deserve.
Why do you have a babysitter you don’t think is good? If you don’t like it, find another babysitter. She may say, “Sorry, this is all we can afford right now.” Don’t wait until you ask for a raise if there are problems, and don’t present a litany of problems after you ask for a raise. She won’t believe you; she’ll think you’re just trying to justify her not giving her a raise.
• Your mother-in-law buys your daughter an outfit that she doesn’t think is appropriate for a tween. (Naturally, her teen loves it.)
If you can, make some adjustments (such as a tank top or leotard under a bare-tummy outfit) that will make the outfit more appropriate for her to wear. So, she lets her grandmother see her in him. That will get the message across. If not, return the outfit to Grandma and say, “Susie loves your present and thanks for thinking of her, but I’m afraid I’m too prudish to let her wear it. I’m so sorry.”
• You receive an inappropriate or surprisingly ugly gift from someone.
Say “Thank you” and accept the gift graciously. Think about the good intentions of the giver, and then later on you can give it to a thrift store or someone else who might like it.
• Someone comments about your weight loss and you don’t feel well.
As someone who has lost and gained weight, I understand exactly the problem. The recipient of the compliment (especially backhanded ones) also realizes that the commenter must have criticized the weight of him, albeit silently, before this. People wanting to give compliments should stick to “Wow, you look great.” and refrain from adding the intrusive “have you lost weight?” It really is a privacy issue, although you can see the weight loss, it’s really not someone else’s business.
If you get such an awkward compliment, just say “thank you” and bring up a different topic, or add “you look nice too.” By not allowing the busybody (who may be very well meaning) to engage you in a conversation about your weight and health, you will discourage further comments. If you get a really egregious comment like “you were too fat before,” don’t dignify it with a response. Simply look the person in the eye and remain silent. There’s no need to say anything to a slap like that. Your silence will say a lot. Let the silence hang in the air for a moment, and then bring up a totally different topic, like “isn’t it a beautiful day?” Or, if you feel really insulted, just walk away and talk to someone else. If you’re so upset that you can’t control your response, then say “excuse me” and quickly go to the bathroom, which is a safe haven where you can regain your composure. The rude “friend” will get the message much more clearly this way than if you stoop to his level and snap back in anger.
Managing difficult personalities requires skill and knowledge. Here’s a technique that anyone can learn to use and it works every time.
waiting time for adults
If someone misbehaves in your presence, giving that adult a “time out” is a powerful and subtle way to fix the problem. Modern parents use a time out to discipline young children. The child is sent to a corner, or to a room, to think about her behavior. An adult variation of time-out also works with any adult friend who is acting childish or misbehaving. All you need to do is become very distant and polite to the person who is not treating you well. No personal conversation and interaction, no banter, no emotions. Be very courteous, so the person can’t accuse you of being nasty, mean, or rude. There is no need to explain what you are doing: the problem person will get the message from your behavior, which is much more effective. If you’ve never tried this, you’ll be surprised how effective becoming polite and pleasant but aloof can be.
Most of the time, your friend’s behavior will immediately become more subdued around you; and often she or she will treat you with more care. Eventually, he or she can ask you what’s wrong or why you’ve changed, and then (and only then) you get a chance to tell you what the problem behavior is and why you don’t like it. Learning to put nasty friends on timeouts right at the start of the nasty behavior can make harsher tactics unnecessary. And if the person’s behavior doesn’t change, you can put them in “time out” and you’ll be protected.