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Uh-oh moments test us

Networking: How to respond when things go awry

Oh, it’s bound to happen. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it’s about to happen, so be prepared. I’m talking about the moment when our face turns bright red and all eyes are on us — the moment of embarrassment. Of course, it never feels like it’s just a moment. It feels like it lasts forever and will never end. At least that’s how it was for me.

On my path to learning how to network and building a successful profile and business, there were countless moments that I wish I could forget. Whether it’s falling down stairs in front of hundreds of people, the unknown rip in the back of your pants, the crackly, squeaky-voiced attempts at public speaking, the red dry-cleaning tag marked “stained” hanging out of your jacket’s collar or spilling a drink over the person you’ve just met, none of it creates the most pleasant environment for exuding confidence — but it’s all part of getting out there and taking chances. (And yes, all of the above have happened to me — some more than once.)

The more you interact with people and put yourself out in public, the more embarrassing moments will happen. Dealing with them became so much of my way of life that I created rules for dealing with these types of situations.

The key is not to avoid situations that risk embarrassment (although I have learned how to be less clumsy and self-conscious to help lessen the risk), rather the key is to control how you react in these times of tribulation.

Thankfully, the only person who remembers these embarrassing moments is you. Most people are too consumed with their own world to worry about yours. However, people will remember how you react when things go wrong.

Some rules to help you become a mishap-recovery specialist.

• If an embarrassing situation arises and it’s accidental, find humour in it and go with the flow. Dragging it on too long makes you look like a diva and can make others feel uncomfortable.

• If you’ve done something wrong, recognize it, admit it, apologize appropriately and move on. Don’t gush or over-apologize, as you run the risk of making the scenario worse and drawing attention to yourself. This is a great rule for those of us who have foot-in-mouth syndrome.

• If the situation is the fault of someone else, accept the apology and cut him or her some slack. Your easygoing nature and forgiving approach will add to your appeal both as a person and as a professional. Remember this when someone else spills the red wine all over you at a cocktail function. It happens.

• If you notice someone having an embarrassing moment, try to distract from the situation and/ or find a way to “save” them. It’s a great opportunity to connect by making the other person feel more comfortable around you.

This last rule reminds me of a night, several years ago, when a group of us were chatting — some sitting on stools, some standing. One fellow randomly fell off his stool and ended up on the floor. He was mortified and everyone was a bit stunned by the occurrence. Thankfully one of the guys came to his rescue by quickly “apologizing” for nudging him, taking responsibility for causing him to fall off his stool.

Sure, some of us knew it was total B.S. but it covered the situation and allowed the fallen fellow to have some dignity. I’ve been a fan of the guy who offered the recovery ever since.

— Allison Graham is a business networking speaker and author of Business Cards to Business Relationships: Building the Ultimate Network. To submit a question, comment on the article or to contact Allison, visit her blog at or her website,