You know the situation all too well. You just said something before even thinking of it, or just did that one irreversibly obnoxious act. Suddenly you feel like all the world’s spotlights are trained on you. Your face is burning, your fingers fidgeting. The silence around you seems like eternity. But instead of bouncing back, you only become more uncomfortable with each minute.

Even if you have a gift of gab to rival Oprah, you are not impervious to faux pas in social interactions. This world can be such a larger-than-life talk show and, on occasion, you just don’t know how to engage your guests.

Not all of us are enlightened in the ways of social etiquette, and when we miss a step, we become so self-conscious to a fault. Fortunately, no one fully expects you to be perfect anyway.

Learn these resilient moves next time you get in an interpersonal fix. In a roundabout way, you would create for yourself a healthy lifestyle, diverting yourself from needless apprehension.

“I’m—sorry. Really, I’m very sorry to hear that. So, so, sorry…”

You’ve heard that your former officemate’s 10-year old son has passed away. But the time between hearing the news and phoning your officemate seems to stretch on forever. You just don’t know how to stitch your condolences together. Should you say “I’m sorry”? Or should you throw “my condolences” like a seasoned undertaker? Eventually, you bump into him at the local coffee shop. You finally recite your piece, looking tentative as you do so. He graciously accepts the condolences—or did he?

Best move: Tongue-tied much? That’s normal for us non-undertakers; death is simply not an everyday event for us. The grandiosity of death should not really require as profound a message from you. You simply have to own up to the fact that words could do only so much in expressing solidarity with the bereaved. Just say you’re sorry. In fact, you may choose not to say anything at all. At a time when one needs to purge the emotions through talking, you only have to extend a listening ear. Flowery words of sympathy have nothing on this.

“It’s not you. It’s me.”

Rusty is well-mannered, athletic, and not bad-looking.  You’ve known him in class for a few weeks now as your chemistry lab partner. He would be quite a good catch—only for others. He’s so not your type, yet he asks you out this Sunday for a date. So you delve into the inevitable “please don’t take this personally…” dialogue. But come Monday morning, you would have to sit next to him for your requisite date with graduated cylinders and beakers.

Best move: Many people have yet to master the skill of saying no because they do not want to hurt each other’s feelings. In 2003, researchers at the University of California in Los Angeles found that the part of the brain connected to bodily pain activates when people feel rejected. Imagine how the brain would look like when one’s romantic advances are returned to sender. While you would want to spare someone those emotions, you need to stay true to yourself. So brush off a prospective paramour the nicest way possible; never be disdainful of another’s profession of love. When you do meet again, indulge your anxiety and try to be respectful.

“No, I’m not…”

You’re not the same frumpy Ugly Betty anymore. When you arrive at the 10-year high school reunion, you part crowds, Moses-like.  That’s also when a sea of compliments come crashing down on you. “You look ravishing!” “How’d you do it?” “Call me.” Even your meanest bully is at your feet. It really is your moment in the sun, but you could feel your reddening mug is noticeable even from Jupiter.

Best move: When someone else is singing your praises, you always feel like you’re on center stage. Such attention can be too much, especially for people with low self-esteem. Compliments today can also pressure you to make yourself superior again tomorrow. However, you are not compelled to one-up yourself next time. All you have to do is say “thank you” and savor the glory. Do not be too self-conscious of your anxiety, lest you want to appear rude. If you don’t believe the compliments, opt to receive them as they are.

“I can do it myself.”

It’s your daughter’s 18th birthday party and you are absolutely swamped with chores. You would hope your husband would pitch in for the preparations, but he phones you time and again to prepare platters of vegetarian dishes for his gym pals. You cannot do it all by yourself, but you agree anyway.

Best move: For many people, asking for help is a sign of dependence and incompetence. But showcasing an image of inadequacy is worth the price in achieving your goals. Once in a while, let go of your desire for expertise. Concentrate on your goals instead. Besides, people would cherish it when you ask for their help. It makes them feel valued.

“Hey, look at that bird.”

Queuing up to withdraw from the ATM, you fall next to the husband of your former officemate. You instantly find a common denominator, talking about the company that made his wife’s (and your) life a living hell. The conversation goes along pretty well, until you run short of things to say. A period of silence follows. It’s still light years away from the machine. Must you talk about…that bird on the post?

Best move: Enjoy the moment. Contrive to make a purpose out of any conversation by focusing on topics that interest you. Simultaneously, try to be interested in your partner in gab. This way, you look interested in the conversation, without sounding too self-conscious or self-centered.


Since you were hired last month, you have been getting along well with your supervisor—until today. Of all people, you happen to stand there as she storms out of a possibly inauspicious meeting with the CEO. She hurls diatribes at you in the corridor, screeching about your lackluster performance and your overall mediocrity. You are frozen on the spot.

Best move: You do not want to be at the receiving end of your colleague’s caustic outbursts. But avoid an impulsive reaction at all costs. Take time to breathe deeply and assess the situation. As much as possible, do not consider it as an impersonal attack.

Similar Posts: