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Fearless In Five    Presentation Power    Recommendations

Say that Right Thing ~ How to Avoid Foot-in-Mouth Situations

A portion of this interview was published in the May 2006 issue of Simply Her Magazine in an article written by features writer, Yanni Tan. I have made our entire original interview available for you below.


Situation:
Youíre seated next to a stranger at a posh dinner and have to start a polite conversation

WHAT TO SAY:
Start off with a simple "Hi. My name is _______.

Whatís yours? Itís very nice to meet you." Then discuss the function itself. For example, if itís a charity ball or an elaborate wedding dinner you can chat about particulars of the event or people/interests you might have in common.


Situation:
A colleague, whom youíre on friendly terms with, tells you she is fired

WHAT TO SAY:
Respond honestly and ask questions about what happened to allow your colleague to vent.

"Iím shocked. What happened? Were you given a warning by HR before? etc"

After your colleague has gotten everything off her chest encourage her with hopeful reassurance.

"Everything happens for a reason. Iím sure there is going to be a better opportunity that comes your way as a result of this seemingly negative short term circumstance."


Situation:
Someone tries to cut into the queue in front of you

WHAT TO SAY:
If you are the only person waiting, politely say "Excuse me. I was here first. I am also waiting to be served."

If there is a long queue, say "Excuse me. We are all waiting to be served. Kindly take your place at the back of the queue."


Situation:
Youíve just heard your colleagueís husband (or family member) has passed away

WHAT TO SAY:
Proactively organize an office donation and present it to your colleague.

You could say the following on behalf of yourself or your colleagues. "Please accept my/our deepest sympathies. I know that there are really no words to describe your loss. Know Iím here for you anytime if you need someone to talk to. If there is any extra work to be handled Iíd/weíd be happy to help you out.

If youíve personally experienced the Situation before you could add, "I lost (my dad) and I know how challenging this time can be."

If you are religious or spiritual you could say, "Your family will be in my thoughts and prayers".


Situation:
An acquaintance remarks snidely that you have put on weight

WHAT TO SAY:
If youíre fine with your weight say, "Interesting you should mention my weight. My friends think I look really healthy. I feel great."

If for some medical reason youíve put on weight say, "Iím impressed you noticed my weight gain. Actually Iíve been quite sick and the weight gain is an effect of my illness. When Iím feeling 100% again, Iím sure the kilos will drop off naturally."

If you normally have weight challenges say, "Yes I have put on a little weight. Too much of the good life and celebration! (smile) Actually, Iíve just started a weight management program and am slowly retraining myself to eat to live rather than live to eat."


Situation:
You walk into the pantry, right into colleagues who are gossiping about you

WHAT TO SAY:
"Excuse me. I couldnít help but overhear your conversation about me. Have I done anything to offend either/any of you? If so, Iím open to discussion and apologize if Iíve inadvertently done something to upset you. I will gladly take responsibility for my actions. Would you like to have a talk now?"


Situation:
Your colleagues start to gossip about your boss but you want no part of it

WHAT TO SAY:
"I make it a practice not to say anything about a person when they are not present unless itís positive. I donít mean to offend you and have no judgment about your conversation. Iíd just rather not participate. If you donít mind, Iíll excuse myself and get back to work."


Situation:
Youíre seated across your partner at a function and notices that he has vegetable lodged in his teeth

WHAT TO SAY:
Put a finger or toothpick against your own teeth directly opposite/mirroring the placement of the lodged vegetable in your partnerís tooth. Tap your tooth exactly where the food is and he should get the point.

If that doesnít work, excuse yourself from the table as if you were visiting the restroom and either SMS him or walk by his chair telling him discretely on your way out or get him to come along with you.


Situation:
A friend, whoís in dire straits, tries to borrow a large sum of money from you but you want to reject him

WHAT TO SAY:
"Iím sorry I canít help you out with a loan right now. I have personal and professional obligations limiting my current cash flow. I cannot put those that depend on me financially in jeopardy. My lending money would be irresponsible given our circumstances. I hope you can understand that."


Situation:
A colleague confronts you about something awful you were supposed to have said or done but didnít

WHAT TO SAY:
"Wow - Iím shocked! I would never do anything like that to you. Who told you such a thing? I give you my word it is completely untrue. I honestly donít understand why she would say that. Shall we go together to speak with her about it directly?"


Situation:
You want to warn a friend about her garlic breath or nasty body odor

WHAT TO SAY:
"I have something to tell you that might be embarrassing but as your friend, I feel I should inform you that you have noticeable bad breath/body odor. What I use for it is _____. Iím sorry to have to share this but I would hope that you do the same for me."


Situation:
Your neighbor habitually blasts his stereo every night and youíre about to knock on his door to tell him off

WHAT TO SAY:
If you knock on his door say, "Iím sorry to disturb you however; I need you to be aware that your stereo is so loud that we/your neighbors/my family/my young children, are unable to sleep/rest. Obviously, we canít tell you what do but as your neighbors we would greatly appreciate your lowering the stereo volume after (9pm)."

If the noise continues repeatedly, especially during the weekdays, I would formally report the continuing disturbance to the appropriate authorities.


Situation:
You disagree with your mother-in-law but do not want to upset her

WHAT TO SAY:
"I respect your point of view but must say that I donít fully agree. Can we agree to disagree? I am committed to having a good relationship with you and donít feel it is 100% necessary that we think exactly the same about everything. Do you agree?"


Situation:
Youíre trapped in an awkward Situation where youíre expected to make small talk with an ex-boyfriend with whom youíve had a bad breakup

WHAT TO SAY:
"Havenít seen you in awhile - How have you been?"

You can ask questions or make comments about his interests, family or close friends. "Howís your mother?" or "I noticed your team won the FA cup."

If youíd rather not speak, let him strike up conversation first. Then keep the focus on him by asking general questions about his life.

If you do want to discuss anything take advantage of the opportunity to gain further completion/closure of the relationship.


Situation:
Your child was hurt in a scuffle in school and youíre calling the perpetratorís mother to discuss it

WHAT TO SAY:
Write a script on paper with a general idea of what you want to say in advance. This will keep you and the conversation on track if the perpetratorís mother gets defensive or upset.

"Iím calling to find out if your son told you about an incident he was involved in at school today? I know all types of things can happen between children and neither one of us were there. However, my daughter is quite hurt and I thought you might be able to fill me in on your sonís side of the story."


A portion of this article was first published in 2006 by Simply Her Magazine (SPH Magazines)
Illustration by David Smith (Davesmif@yahoo.com)
Situations were created by Yanni Tan with What to Say Answers by Deborah Torres Patel


Copyright © 2006 ~ Deborah Torres Patel ~ All rights reserved
For reprint permission, please email info@expressingyou.com