9 Etiquette Tips to Handle Awkward Situations

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Everyone has experienced at least a few awkward situations in their lifetime, even after trying to follow the most basic rules of etiquette. These may be insignificant events that you won’t remember a year from now, or they may be much more impactful to your life. Regardless of how much they affect you, there are some things you can do to minimize the aftermath.

  • 01 of 09

    Busybody Questions

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    You've probably had someone ask you something that is none of their business, leaving you wondering why they need to know. There’s always someone who thinks it’s his or her right to know your private or personal business, and they'll ask you.

    Come up with a few pat answers to put these people in their place without sounding self-righteous. For example, if one of your coworkers asks how much you make, say, “Enough to pay my bills but not enough to buy that Lamborghini I have my eye on.” There isn't much the person can say after that.

  • 02 of 09

    Email or Text Sent to the Wrong Person

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    The instant you hit “send,” you discover that your message went to the wrong person. Now it’s time for damage control. First, try to find a way to “unsend,” but that doesn’t always work.

    It’s not too difficult to apologize if you haven’t said something inappropriate. However, if you have, pick up the phone and talk to the person. It’s always easier to explain with back-and-forth conversation than with another email or text message. The person will hear the sincerity in your voice more easily than seeing it in another message.

  • 03 of 09

    You're Running Late

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    It's always a good idea to be where you're supposed to be at the designated time. However, there are occasions when you may be running late. The best thing is to apologize and do whatever you have to do to catch up on what you missed.

    Don't make up reasons for your tardiness because that's simply a waste of time, and others will see right through the excuses. If you have a legitimate excuse, let the other person know and then drop it.

  • 04 of 09

    In the Presence of an Ex

    embarrassed date
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    You’re sitting across the table with the man or woman of your dreams, and someone at the door of the restaurant catches your eye. As soon as you glance up, your heart falls when you realize your ex has just arrived. You want to crawl under the table, hoping you won't be seen. However, that's not a good solution.

    Be very straightforward and simply state the situation. If the person you are with seems put off, try to reassure him or her. However, this is an opportunity to see the person’s reaction to a sticky situation – something that will show true character.

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    Flirty Boss

    boss flirting with coworker
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    Flirty bosses can make your job unbearable, so it’s best to nip that situation in the bud immediately. Let him or her know that this kind of behavior makes you uncomfortable and you would like for it to stop. If the person continues, you have three choices: Tell your boss’s supervisor, live with it, or quit your job.

  • 06 of 09

    Inappropriate Office Relationship

    boss flirting with coworker
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    The discomfort of spotting one of your married coworkers engaging in inappropriate behavior with someone else in the office can be overwhelming. If this happens to you, leave the scene and give one of the people an opportunity to explain later. You may have misunderstood what was happening, but if your first hunch was correct, resist the urge to comment. Don’t gossip about an office romance with others either because often the messenger winds up in more trouble than the ones who commit the infraction.

  • 07 of 09

    Forgot Someone's Name

    Office workers shaking hands at desk
    Don't be afraid to ask someone's name. Caiaimage/Sam Edwards / Getty Images

    If you encounter someone whose name you should remember but don’t, extend your hand and say, “Hi, I’m not sure if you remember me, but I’m Jane Miller from accounting.” The other person will probably take the hint and do the same. If not, continue chatting with the hope that something will trigger your memory. You can also try honesty by saying that you are terrible with names. Most people are understanding and won’t be offended.

  • 08 of 09

    Foot in Mouth Syndrome

    embarrassed woman covering mouth
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    Almost everyone has stuck a foot in the mouth at least once in his or her life. When this happens to you, take a moment to recover and come back with something flattering. For example, if you ask a friend when her baby is due, and she lets you know she’s not pregnant, say, “Oh, but you’re glowing. Something wonderful must be happening in your life, and I’d love to hear about it.” Then make it a point to avoid saying anything rude in the future.

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    Request for a Loan

    taking cash from wallet
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    Someone you know has asked you for money, but you have a rule to never lend money to a friend or coworker. Simply state your policy, and if possible, offer a small cash gift. If you don’t have extra money to give, offer something else, like an alternative to borrowing money. You may even know of a lending institution that you can recommend.

Look Forward, Not Back

Remember that most of your awkward moments are quickly forgotten by others, so try to move on and not constantly beat yourself up over your mistakes. And then try not to make the same mistake again.