How to tell someone something embarrassing


What do you do if someone you're with has spinach in his teeth? Or his fly is open? Do you tell or pretend not to notice? Answers to these and other challenging questions from Melissa Kirsch, author of The Girl's Guide to Absolutely Everything.

How to tell someone something embarrassing
  • You should always tell someone that something about their appearance is askew if it is something embarrassing and they can change it. A good example is if someone has spinach in their teeth. However, if it's a bad outfit, or a bad hair-do and they can't change it, don't tell them, as that will only cause more embarrassment.
  • Use discretion and be respectful. Depending on the situation, being playful may also help. Under no circumstances should you announce it publicly so others can hear.
  • If the person you tell gets embarrassed or angry, delicately say something like, “Excuse me, I thought I was being helpful — I was trying to be helpful.” After all, this is true! Nobody wants to go home after a party to see that they've had spinach in their teeth!

KATRINA: Hi, I’m Katrina Szish with Now, it’s happened to all of us — that terrible moment where you have spinach or broccoli or something else stuck inside your teeth. Do you want to be told? Should you tell somebody else if they have that same problem? Melissa Kirsch, the author of The Girl’s Guide to Absolutely Everything, is going to join us now to tell us how to handle it. Thanks for joining us.

MELISSA: Thanks for having me.

KATRINA: If you see one of your friends with a big piece of something green in their teeth, should you tell them?

MELISSA: Absolutely, you always tell someone if they have something that could be potentially embarrassing if they can change it. So, if you’ve got something in your teeth I’m going to tell you discreetly — “Katrina, you’ve got something in your teeth.” Now, if you come in with, let’s say, a bad outfit or an unattractive haircut, then no, I wouldn’t tell you about anything that you couldn’t change.

KATRINA: What if this person is someone you don’t know very well? What if it’s your boss?

MELISSA: You know, no one wants to get home and look in the mirror and realize they’ve been sitting there all night, smiling away, chatting and have, like, a big grease spot on their face or something; so you can always be discreet with a little [hand gesture] to somebody. As long as it's playful and it’s respectful, I think it’s fine.

KATRINA: Now, is there any way that that person could become embarrassed or what if they get angry with you? How do you respond to that?

MELISSA: I think, a delicate, “Excuse me, I thought I was being helpful — I was trying to be helpful.” The important thing about etiquette in general is, you’re not the police; you’re there to try to make everybody feel more comfortable.

KATRINA: What if we’re talking about something a little more personal, like somebody’s fly is open or they have little bit of something on their nose? Is there a line where you should or shouldn’t cross?

MELISSA: I think that the quiet motion, the [hand gesture] and if it’s something they can change, motioning to the fly a little bit. Worse that they should get home and feel like an idiot because they’ve been walking around with this very fixable flaw.

KATRINA: So, it’s about subtle motions to tell somebody that something is wrong as opposed to, “Hey, your fly’s open.”

MELISSA: Exactly. You don’t want to call it out to the rest of the party.

KATRINA: Melissa Kirsch, very wise advice. Thanks for joining us.

MELISSA: Thanks for having me.

meet theexpert
  • Melissa Kirsch

    Melissa Kirsch Author, The Girl's Guide To Absolutely Everything Melissa Kirsch is the author of The Girl’s Guide to Absolutely Everything (Workman, 2007). She has been writing professionally for and about young women since 1998, when she was an editor at one of the first sites for girls on the Web. more about this expert »

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