Gaffe Handling Brilliance

Gaffes or mistakes are common enough - social gaffes can be embarrassing but people with high emotional intelligence can handle them with good grace and humour.

Once it is obvious to the people around you that you have made a self-created social gaffe, how do you deal with it?

You can choose to get embarrassed about it, you can choose to tough it out, you can choose to make a run for it or, you can choose to handle it with good grace and humour.

People with elevated and well-balanced levels of Emotional Intelligence tend to handle such situations with the last choice; good grace and humour.

Because I run so many live workshops I see a number of interesting social scenarios. I recently had occasion to see a wonderful tour de force demonstration of stylish self-created gaffe handling and therefore thought you might like to read about it.

The Scenario

I was prepping for a workshop in a large hotel which had several events running simultaneously. The session title was clearly visible on the large TV monitor. There were already 7 or 8 people there. About 15 minutes before my workshop session was to begin, a lady swept in and firmly shook hands with me. She introduced herself confidently and gave me her name. She then sought out a seat next to another delegate and began a conversation with him. As I was checking her name on my attendee list, I found I had two people with the same first name. As a result, I then enquired as to which one she was.

The Realisation of the Gaffe

She was neither of the people on my list and then told me she had only joined the workshop at the last minute. This didn’t phase me because this happens all the time. I put her name on the list then asked for the first part of her email address as per the admin requirement. As she gave me the email address one of the other delegates that it was a closed course for their department. As she was busy telling everyone the session she was meant to be attending, she noticed the large TV monitor with my workshop title on it and the penny finally dropped. She was in the wrong room.

The Gaffe Handled

Instead of blushing or getting flustered, this super-confident lady simply packed up her belongings, stood up and exited in style. She first turned and shook hands with the delegate next to her and said how lovely it was to have met him. She then shook hands with me and said it was a pity she was in the wrong room as “everyone here seems so lovely.” I suggested she was more than welcome to stay, or even return if her own course was not up to scratch. I finally wished her well for rest of her day. She cheerfully wished everyone a wonderful day then confidently breezed off to who knows where. During this whole event, she kept a big smile on her face. That’s star quality.

What a stylish and memorable way to handle the situation.

The gaffe in perspective

This was not a life or death situation. It was not even that embarrassing in the overall scheme of things. In fact, I have done the very same thing myself several times over the years. In a busy hotel with vague directional instructions from reception staff mistakes such as this are inevitable. She simply saw a room with a workshop going on and assumed she was in the right place. Because of this she did what she appeared to always do; she dived in and confidently made herself at home.

This was an easy enough mistake to make but she could have gone about dealing with her gaffe in a variety of ways before leaving.  She might have shouted at and blamed me for not checking the instant she arrived. Perhaps she could have claimed there was no proper course signage, or the TV screen was obscured from her sight in some way. Maybe she could have fled the scene with blushes and apologies all round or she could have walked out angrily without a good word to anyone. All memorable options but not necessarily good options.

From my perspective, the key thing was never allowing herself to get flustered or panicked.

What can we learn from this?

Because she stayed calm, she was able to see the situation quickly and easily for what it really was. It wasn’t a shocking and embarrassing social gaffe at all; it was simply a funny mistake which anyone could have made. Because she then handled it all with good grace and humour, people in the room laughed with her and not at her. Most empathised and wished her well. It would have been great if she really was on my course although I don’t believe assertiveness was something she lacked.

Self-regulation or self-control is a key element in emotional intelligence. People who keep elevated levels of emotional self-control tend to do well in social situations and, in my experience, life in general. This lady remained calm and fully in control throughout which then led to her classy and good-natured exit. The way she handled it enabled her self-confidence to remain high.

The Bonus

My workshop that morning was all about developing more Assertiveness. As the trainer I loved her for handling her gaffe the way she did because she supplied a brilliant, if unplanned, example of assertive behaviour which became one of the learning points on the day.

This story clearly underlines for me why I love delivering live training workshops so much. I meet such fantastic people, get some unexpected yet wonderful bonuses and I learn something new on every session.

What next?

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You might also like to check out:

Self-regulation and Emotional Intelligence

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