We’ve all gone through sticky social situations, and felt deep embarrassment or regret over what we said…or didn’t say. As speech and etiquette coach Valerie Cruz Tapalla points out, “It’s not always black and white. It’s the gray areas we need to cope with.”
If you do find yourself in a dilemma, social etiquette dictates taking the high road first. “Act with respect, consideration, and honesty, so that you can come out [of awkward situations] alive, and still make nice,” Tapalla adds.
Here are five social dilemmas you may have found (or have yet to find) yourselves in, and how to turn things around—without burning bridges.
Problem: “I don’t really like my husband’s friends, especially their wives. I feel like we don’t share anything in common, that’s why I often make up excuses when it’s time to meet up. I know it’s unfair to my husband, and I really want to make it up to him.” What you can do: There’s no other solution than to try and make an effort to get to know them better. Tapalla advises the tried-and-tested Q&A route. Who knows? You might just be hindering relationships based on a few false impressions. If talking to them bores or annoys you to no end, Tapalla offers a few “polite” ways to escape: “Pretend you’ve received a phone call that you have to deal with pronto [by saying], ‘I’m sorry, I just have an emergency to deal with.’ The ‘food-and-drink getaway’ also works. ‘Excuse me, I need to get a drink’ is always a winner.” The best way to look friendly and still find other means of escaping their company? Invite them over to your house. You’ll be the busy hostess, with just enough time to mingle and refill their plates or drinks, then have the kitchen (or the kids) as an excuse.
Problem: “I was invited to several different events on the same night. But truth be told, I would really just like to go straight home from work and spend time with my family. Is it rude to turn them all down?” What you can do: Invitees will usually understand that family time is something you obviously value, and won’t force the issue. But let them know immediately your response without these phrases “gusto ko sana pero” or “try ko ha.” You probably don’t want to hurt their feelings, but you will offend them when you make them hope and then not go. RSVP accordingly: “Thank you for your invitation, though I’m afraid I won’t be able to make it.” If they ask for a reason, then be upfront: “I promised my kids I’d stay home and spend time with them that night.”
Problem: “Ever since I bagged a major account, my boss has been handing me most of the big projects. I’m flattered to be trusted, but my co-workers have started to talk behind my back and not in a very good light.” What you can do: Work with your boss to include your colleagues in the projects given to you. You may choose to report to him, particularly when you have hard evidence, that there are people at work who have been talking behind your back, but never say anything that would put them in a bad light. Ask your boss if he can assign one of the projects to a colleague whom you think will be able to do the same amount of work your boss expects of you. If he really wants you to lead, request that he assigns one or two to work with you as a team.
Problem: “I recently switched to a different salon because I wasn’t satisfied with my suki hairstylist. Then I bumped into her at the mall! Of course she noticed my new hairstyle and said, ‘O, saan ka na nagpapagupit?’ I was so flustered. How should I have handled the situation?” What you can do: Make light of the situation, saying “Yours is looking really good, too!” This leaves the floor open for her to talk about what she’s been up to. Make the conversation all about her. Dig into your stock knowledge about her—her family, or some bit of tsismis she may have told you in the past. Then when it’s time to part ways, be sincerely gracious that you caught up with her. “Remember, parting words are almost always remembered,” says Tapalla. “Don’t just smile and mumble your goodbye. Say it warmly, pleasantly, and clearly.” Your stylist will feel good about the encounter that she might even forget what her beef was in the first place.
Problem: “Our next-door neighbor loves scolding anyone who makes the mistake of parking in front of his house. He’s out on the street every day, loudly arguing with someone. I’ve been on the receiving end of his wrath several times. I think it’s pretty rude of him since he doesn’t own the sidewalk.” What you can do: React to him in the nicest way possible. People who are often in a foul mood tend to be thrown off when someone acts nicely towards them. Tapalla adds that a backhanded compliment could also work. “Though we want to take the high road in some situations, being the better person doesn’t always work.” To tone down the nastiness, say, “Ikaw talaga, so intense as always!’’ with a laugh. Your joking manner may be able to defuse some of the tension while subtly getting your message across. Then when he calms down perhaps you can discuss a compromise about parking in front of his house.
In the end, knowing the varied rules of social etiquette all boils down to one thing: how you connect with others. So whatever awkward situation you find yourself in, always pause to think if your potential reaction will build relationships—or tear them down.
A version of this article originally appeared in the September 2013 issue of Good Housekeeping Philippines. Edits have been made by SmartParenting.com.ph editors.