TOTALLY AWKWARD! You’re out shopping on a busy weekend with kids in tow, and a salesperson approaches you. He’s adamant that you stop and listen to his sales pitch.

WHAT TO DO Give him a big smile and engage him for a few seconds, says Christian Chua, a behaviourist, body language and communication skills teacher, and founder of Christian Chua Training Academy. Then, tell him you already have the product, or are not interested in what he’s selling.

“The trick is to sound confident. Say, ‘Thanks but I’ve gone through this already and it’s not for me’. When you sound confident, you give him a clear signal that you have considered the product and have no intention of buying it,” says Christian. “If he persists, it’s because you didn’t sound sure of yourself. And if he thinks you’re trying to avoid him, he will carry on with the ‘Let me explain more clearly’ attitude.”

TOTALLY AWKWARD! Your friend is going on and on about something, or an elderly relative keeps telling you the same story every time you meet. The stories go nowhere and you don’t have time to indulge them.

WHAT TO DO “Gingerly change the subject,” Yvonne Anjelina, director and chief etiquette coach at The Etiquette School Singapore, advises. “If, say, your colleague is going on about her mother-in-law visiting Resorts World Sentosa, you might want to jump in and say, ‘Oh, have you been there yet? What about Universal Studios? Maybe we should organise a visit there sometime.”

TOTALLY AWKWARD! A dinner you’re having with your friend and her husband is going swimmingly, until she says something that makes him angry. Next thing you know, they’re arguing heatedly with each other at the table.

WHAT TO DO If you know the couple well, defuse the situation. Says Yvonne: “It’s okay for you to interrupt and make them forget what they were arguing about. You could say something like, ‘Oh, come on. Let’s just forget it and enjoy the meal. Hey, remember the last time we came here and…”

If you don’t know them that well, Yvonne suggests keeping quiet and looking away. “You can pretend not to notice that they’re arguing,” she says. “But if it escalates, excuse yourself and go to the restroom. Hopefully, they’ll get the hint and stop before you return. If they’re still at it, you can tell them a little lie – say you’re sorry but you have to go home immediately as someone in your family has taken ill.”

TOTALLY AWKWARD! You say something in the heat of the moment that offends someone. You regret it the second it rolls off your tongue but it’s too late.

WHAT TO DO Yvonne says you should apologise right away. Say sincerely: “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that”, “I’m sorry, that came out wrong”, or “I’m sorry, I take that back. Please forgive me.”
“Hurtful words are difficult to take back and the recipient is unlikely to forget what you’ve said,” says Yvonne. “It’s always good to follow up with a ‘Sorry’ card or some other nice gesture.” And next time, if you feel a conversation is getting heated, cut it short.

TOTALLY AWKWARD! You’re at a family gathering when one of your aunties remarks loudly that you’ve put on weight. Everyone falls silent and you’re completely mortified.

WHAT TO DO Turn it into a joke. As hurt or embarrassed as you are, don’t be afraid to poke fun at yourself. Eunice Tan, founder of Image Flair Academy of Modern Etiquette, suggests saying: “So, you noticed my new sexy curves! I love them!” This should lighten the mood and take the focus away from your aunt’s rudeness.

TOTALLY AWKWARD! You’re dining with an acquaintance. When the bill arrives, she looks away and doesn’t offer to pay her share. How do you tell her without seeming rude?

WHAT TO DO “Usually, the one who invites pays the bill,” says Eunice. “If you don’t want to pay her share, tell her, ‘The bill says that your meal came up to $… Shall I settle the bill first and you can pay me later?’”

TOTALLY AWKWARD! You pick up a call and a telemarketer is on the line, trying to sell you something. You want to hang up on her but feel bad.

WHAT TO DO “Hear her out if you have the time,” says Christian. “But if you are busy and want to end the conversation, tell her politely that you hear what she’s saying but are not interested. If she keeps pushing you, simply say, ‘Thanks for your time, I don’t mean to be rude but I’m going to end this conversation and will be hanging up’.” Then, hang up.

TOTALLY AWKWARD! You’re with a client who has bad breath, and the assault on your nostrils is killing you. Unfortunately, you cannot sit any farther away from her.

WHAT TO DO “Excuse yourself and go get some fresh air,” Christian suggests. “Unfortunately, you cannot tell her she needs to brush her teeth, so excusing yourself a couple of times during your meeting should give you the ‘breathing’ space you need. Her bad breath may just be the result of a dry mouth, so offer her a glass of water or a cup of tea.”

TOTALLY AWKWARD! Your toddler is throwing a tantrum in a store and screaming his lungs out. Another customer scolds him in front of everyone before turning to you to complain about your child’s behaviour.

WHAT TO DO You might be tempted to tell the customer off but bite your tongue. Just say you’re sorry and carry your kid out of the store to prevent further drama, says Eunice.

This article was originally published in Simply Her September 2012.