How to handle awkward social situations

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We've all been there - forgetting someone's name at a party, getting stuck with the check, or having to fend off unwanted sexual advances. So what are you supposed to do? Sarah Ivens, former editor of OK! Magazine, and author of numerous modern etiquette guides offers advice to help us through awkward social situations.

How to handle awkward social situations

What if you forget somebody’s name?

Fess up! Just admit it. We've all been in that awkward situation. We all know what’s going on so say, "I'm really sorry, I can't remember..." If you can remember any fact about them to make them feel special at all — "I remember you're from Ohio but I’m really sorry I've forgotten your name. What's your name again?" Listen carefully, and then use their name back in conversation a few times. Introduce them to a few people in the next few minutes. Think of something, a trigger, that connects their name to something you can remember. For example, if her name is Rose, that's an easy one. You can think of the flower.

If you notice that someone can't remember your name, should you help him or her out?

Yes. Absolutely. Help them out -- don't let them struggle. Just be open and jump right in with your name. We're too worried about stuff like that.

What do you do if you're out to dinner with a group and nobody picks up the tab, and you weren't counting on being the host for the dinner?

It depends: If you asked everyone out for dinner, if you made any implication with the invitation that you would be paying -- “I’d love to treat you all” or “It’s my birthday and I’m going to take my best friends out.” then they've got reason to think you're paying. If you haven't, and you've just suggested that they should all get together and go out, then it’s down to everyone to pay their share. If people aren't putting their hands in their pockets — you should take charge. "All right, the check’s here, everyone. Should I play mother and figure out what everyone owes? Anyone have a calculator on their mobile phone? Should we just split this four ways?” Maybe you shouldn't go out with these kinds of people. They should be more embarrassed than you. But that won't help you out that night, so, don't just sit there looking at it, worrying about it, because that’s not going to get you anywhere. Be assertive.

What if someone grabs the check but you really wanted to be the host of dinner?

If someone else wants to pay, offer to pay twice. Use phrases like, “Oh I'll get this… Are you sure? I don't mind. No, I'll get it... I was expecting to pay for this...” If you try to offer twice and then they still say, “No, I insist,” then that is it. Stop struggling. You don't want an awkward tug-of-war in a restaurant over a check -- it’s embarrassing. So accept graciously, thank them, and when you're saying goodnight for the evening say thank you again. Make a mental note that you will treat them next time. It's fine, let them pay.

What do you do if you're out at a party or out to dinner -- or out anywhere -- and your friend’s boyfriend/fiancé/husband starts flirting with you?

Just shut them down, even though that's embarrassing. Be all about your friend. If it’s something like, "Hey you look hot this evening…" shoot back with, "Not as hot as your wife, you lucky thing. She's my best friend and she's beautiful.” If it's inappropriate, and it makes you feel uncomfortable, just walk away.

What if this kind of thing happens repeatedly, or if you find out that this same guy is hitting on other people. Should you ever tell your friend?

If it’s happened a few times -- or happened to other women -- and it’s gone beyond "Oh, you’re looking sexy," you really have to tell your friend. You don’t want to be the tattletale that goes around causing trouble all the time, but if it’s more than a drunk flirty guy trying to boost your confidence at a party -- having him calling and suggesting you have coffee together -- you owe it to your friend to tell her what's going on. But just give her the facts: “Oh, Colin rang me today for coffee, what's that about?" Just put it out there, don’t add to the awkardness by offering your opinion or cause trouble by being provocative.

 

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For howdini.com, I'm Lisa Birnbach. What if you're having an awkward night? Everything goes wrong. And your social life is unraveling in front of your eyes. And you're out with people from work. What do you do?

 

Sarah Ivens is here. She's the editor-in-chief of OK! in America and the author of many modern etiquette books. Sarah, you forget somebody's name. And you can't rebound from that. What do you do?

 

Fess up. I mean just, admit it. Because I've been out with people, and it's been so embarrassing. They've clearly forgotten my name, forgotten the person that's standing on the other side of me. And they're like, "Darling, have you met Honeybun?" And it's so embarrassing.

 

We all know what's going on. So I think you should just fess up, say, "I'm really sorry. I can remember--" If you can remember any fact about them to make them feel special at all. "I remember you're from Ohio, but oh, what's your--" anything.

 

Just fess up. Say, "I'm really, really sorry. I've forgotten your name. What's your name again?" And listen. And then use their name back in conversation a few times. I mean, not bizarrely like, "How are you, Lisa. I love you, Lisa. Wow, are you looking good tonight, Lisa." I mean, don't go mad.

 

But try and say it and introduce them to a few people in the next few minutes. And think of something that maybe connects their name to something you remember about them that will make it easy, like a trigger, like their name's Rose. That's an easy one. You can think of a rose.

 

Any little tricks like that is good. But just be honest about it. Don't start using a strange nickname.

 

If you notice that somebody can't remember your name, you should bail them out.

 

Oh, help them out, totally.

 

Do not let them struggle.

 

Oh, I'm all for, if there's even three seconds of, like, "Oh, this is my-- from--" "I'm Sarah." Just be open and just go for it. We're too worried about stuff like that, I think.

 

Right. No, that can be bad. Now here's another terrible situation. You're out to dinner with a group, and nobody picks up the tab. And that is awkward. And you weren't counting on being the host for the dinner.

 

Absolutely. There's a few rules here. If you asked everyone out for dinner, if you made any implication with the invitation that you would be-- "I'd love to treat you all" or "It's my birthday. I'm going to take my best friends out." If you've said anything like that, then they've got reason to think you're paying. If you haven't, if you've just suggested, we should all get together and go out or whatever, then it's down to everyone to pay their share. Absolutely.

 

So if people aren't putting their hands in their pockets, which is a pet hate of mine-- it's just so mean and petty-- number one, you shouldn't go out with these kind of people. They're not good friends. But that won't help you out on the night.

 

So on the night, take charge. Be quite bossy. Just say, all right. The check's here, everyone. OK, right. Shall I pay mother?

 

Be bossy. Just be, I'll be mother. Anyone got a calculator? Direct someone else. Has anyone got on a calculator on their mobile phone?

 

Should we just split this four ways, that kind of thing.

 

Again, don't just sit there looking at it, worrying, because that's not going to get anyone anywhere. Really just take charge.

 

OK. So that's not the end of the world. That's not the most embarrassing situation.

 

Oh, and you know what? They should be more embarrassed than you.

 

They won't be. They won't be.

 

Yeah, they won't. Again, going back to point one, don't be friends with these people.

 

OK, what if somebody grabs the check, but you really wanted to be the host of dinner?

 

If someone wants to pay, offer twice. That's my rule. "Oh, I'll get this." "Are you sure? I don't mind." "No, I'll get it." "If you're sure. I was expecting to pay for this," blah blah blah.

 

If you try and offer twice, and then they still say, no, I insist, then that is it. Stop struggling. You don't want a tug-of-war in a restaurant over a check. You don't. It's embarrassing.

 

So accept graciously and say thank you. Say thank you at the time, and then when you're saying goodnight for the evening as well, say thank you again. And just make a mental note, and you will treat them next time. It's fine. Let them pay.

 

That's not even that big a deal. Here is a big deal. You're out at a party, or out to dinner, or out anywhere. Or in. And your friend's boyfriend, fiance, husband starts flirting with you. That, what do you do?

 

That's embarrassing. Really, just shut them down. Be all about your friend. If someone, "Hey, you look hot this evening." "Not as hot as your wife, your lucky thing. She's my best friend, and she's beautiful." Really, everything back to your friend, everything back. It's inappropriate. And it makes you feel uncomfortable. Walk away. Who cares?

 

Now if this kind of thing happens repeatedly, or if you find out that this same guy is hitting on other people, should you ever tell your friend?

 

This is a nightmare, isn't it? I've had it happen to me once before. And luckily, my friend took it seriously. And she's now married to someone else, who's lovely.

 

Yes. I mean, you don't want to be the tattle-tale who goes around causing trouble all the time. But if it's happened a few times, happened to other women, and it's gone beyond "so you're looking sexy." If it's gone beyond that, which could be like a drunk, flirty guy trying to boost your confidence at a party, too. Like him calling and suggesting you have coffee together.

 

If this starts happening, then you really have to tell your friend. And don't put anything out there. Just give her the facts. Don't say, "I think your husband's [BLEEP]." Don't do that.

 

Just be like, "Oh, Colin rang me today for coffee. What's that about?" Just put it out there. Don't add your opinion. Just put out the facts.

 

OK, Sarah. Thank you. For howdini, I'm Lisa Birnbach.

meet theexpert
  • Sarah Ivens

    Sarah Ivens Author and Former Editor-in-Chief of OK! Magazine Sarah Ivens, author and former Editor-in-Chief of OK! Magazine, is a born and bred Londoner who moved to New York to launch OK! Weekly Magazine in April 2005. more about this expert »

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