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Deals & Steals

Benefit Cosmetics LLC

We’ve all heard the expression “kids say the darndest things,” but what about adults? Who among us hasn’t delivered (or been on the receiving end) of a zinger we wish we could take back? Let’s face it, awkward situations happen; we can either choose to deal with them like the compassionate adults we aspire to be, or we can keep on doing the same things that most of us do in those awkward situations—avert our eyes, mumble something unintelligible, and perhaps cough extra loud in an attempt to take the focus off the ridiculously idiotic thing we just said or did. This year, I’m choosing the adult route. And with a little help from Lizzie Post at the Emily Post Institute, I’ll be ready the next time I find myself in any of these precarious situations.

1. You ask someone who’s not pregnant when she’s due.
Ouch. Nothing good can come from trying to explain why you might have thought such a thing (“But your sweater’s so baggy!”), so don’t even try to dig yourself out of this hole because everything you say will make it worse. Post advises that we immediately apologize for our mistake in judgment and move on to another topic ASAP. “You need to move quickly [in engaging her in a new discussion], because otherwise her mind may linger on the fact that you think she looks fat enough to be mistaken for a pregnant woman,” Post says. And nobody wants that.

One more recommendation: never, ever ask that question again unless you’re absolutely, positively sure that the person you’re asking is going to have a baby. If there’s any doubt at all, Post recommends waiting to ask until she shares her good news. Then we can ask when she’s due.

2. You’re unsure whether to friend—or delete—someone on a social networking site.
Sites like Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn have made the boundaries between friend, business associate, and acquaintance a little murky. Post recommends establishing a strategy before joining any site, or if you’re already a member, slightly tweaking your existing strategy. “Make a decision before getting involved about how far you’re going to go. Do you want to separate work [contacts] from personal?” Post says she keeps them separate, opting to keep professional contacts on LinkedIn versus on a site like Facebook, where your contacts are likely to see personal status updates and photos that may not be appropriate for the type of relationship you have. “It’s okay for you to have boundaries and for your boundaries to be different from someone else’s,” she says. “Just explain how yours are different.”

She also says it’s perfectly fine to ignore a friend request from someone you don’t really know that well. After all, that person you sat next to in eighth grade algebra doesn’t need to be your friend on Facebook, unless you really still are friends. Post says it’s okay to go through your profiles and delete people you feel aren’t friends. But do we tell the delete-ees? “It’s really your call whether you communicate with them or not,” she says. If you didn’t know someone that well in the first place, you probably don’t owe him or her an explanation. “But if you delete yourself from a site, I’d send a message to everyone so they know that it wasn’t about them personally, but about your decision not to use the site.”

3. Someone has food in her teeth, something on her pants, etc.
You know the feeling. You check the mirror in the work bathroom and spy a stray piece of spinach in your teeth from lunch—which was three hours ago, before the meeting you just left that you talked and smiled your way through. Why didn’t anyone tell you? Post says whether we tell depends on the person and the environment and isn’t necessarily about whether they’re a stranger or a friend. “You want to do it as discretely as possible, without saying it in front of others to embarrass the person further.” In a meeting environment, there may not be a moment to bring it up without others hearing. (Though in that situation, I’d personally appreciate a discrete post-it from a trusted coworker.) But Post says if you’re one-on-one with someone you know, absolutely let the person know. And if you encounter a stranger in a place where you can tell her without others hearing—like a restaurant bathroom, for example—telling her is a good idea (and also good karma).

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