What are the most awkward parts of your job, and how do you handle them?
February 14, 2019 1:12 PM   Subscribe

What expected or unexpected things are awkward for you at work, in a human-interaction cringeworthy sense? How do you deal with them? Have you gotten better?

I don't mean physically awkward. I'm thinking of librarians having to tell patrons that they smell bad, or doctors having to tell elderly patients that they shouldn't drive anymore. Bankers that have to turn down people for loans. Amusement park workers that have to tell someone they're too wide to ride.

Are such things ever touched upon during professional schooling? Med school, law school, beauty school?

Have these interactions gotten easier with time, and is that because you have gotten better at them or because you're desensitized to it?

I'd love to hear any personal anecdotes!
posted by amicamentis to Human Relations (31 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
It happens frequently in technical sales - you come across a customer's config or network design and it's so horrendously bad, and yet their inescapably proud of it. It's called "having to tell someone that their baby is ugly," and there's no blueprint for it. The solution is to lead them to a better way (which, you won't be surprised, happens to leverage your product) in such fashion that they 'discover' it themselves. The customer saves face, maybe you get a sale, everyone wins.

But it is tricky, especially if egos get involved and both sides (sales and customer) are hell-bent on showing off how smart they are. Nothing good ever comes of that.
posted by jquinby at 1:18 PM on February 14 [8 favorites]


As a consultant, I regularly witness my customers cry, and many are also really engaged in negative self talk (e.g. "I am such an idiot, I should be shot, I don't know why I still have a job," etc). They are often overcome with shame about the state of their fundraising database and structural systems, leading to my hiring. I was definitely not trained for this, but it has gotten easier as I've learned some coping mechanisms, and gotten better at communicating information in a caring way in the context of my work.
posted by juniperesque at 1:25 PM on February 14 [7 favorites]


I am a social worker for Adult Protective Services. I know from Awkward. I have to knock on people's doors and explain that I'm there because someone called with concerns about them, and then almost immediately in most cases explain that the identity of the person who called is not something I can reveal to them. After that, the possibilities for further awkwardness are manifold.

Honestly I guess what I try to do mostly is acknowledge the awkwardness of the situation, and be as open as I can be. "I understand it's frustrating not to know." "A lot of people feel that way, but legally I'm not able to say." "I can imagine it feels intrusive to have someone come into your home and ask you personal questions." I learned from a colleague in another job years ago that if you agree with people, nod and say "yeah" a lot, it smooths things out a lot of the time.
posted by Smearcase at 1:33 PM on February 14 [29 favorites]


You get taught some of it but you also just observe a range of people, be they colleagues or clients, and notice how they deal with such problems and pick what works for you.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:33 PM on February 14


"Having to tell someone that their baby is ugly" is a good name that can be applied to one of the least favorite parts of my job as well. It sometimes falls on me to tell junior software engineers that their design that they've invested a lot of time and energy into is bad, and maybe their whole way of thinking about the problem is bad, too. I try to be kind and constructive, but this is always going to be way outside of my comfort zone, and it always makes me feel like a jerk.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:43 PM on February 14 [3 favorites]


In my job I supervise very young staff and sometimes have to have conversations with them about personal grooming, smells, proper behaviour, etc. I also occasionally have had or witnessed awkward conversations with clients about dress and deportment because it's a martial arts environment, so if their uniform is ripped or whatever, it's a conversation that we need to have. And very once I have had to have a conversation with someone off the street who was literally looking for a literal fight, literally. :)

Anyways, here are my tips:
1. Obviously choose a private location if at all possible, unless they are looking for a fight :)
2. Be super matter-of-fact. "Hi Bob, great to see you in class today. I wanted to talk to you about your uniform. I don't know if you've noticed, but it's ripped in the groin area. Would it be possible for you to repair it before your next class?" OR with staff it's like "John, I wanted to talk to you about your hair. It isn't always appearing as professionally as I would like you to come across. Would it be possible to make sure it's washed and brushed before you come in?" or "Hi there...I'm afraid we don't accept challenges here. It's just not something we do. I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
3. If it all stays matter of fact, if it's a person you hope to have a continued relationship with, it's good to stay warm and upbeat.
3a, if you're really ejecting someone, call the police if you need to and of course be safe, actually, do de-escalation training
4. If they get upset, I usually go to something like "No worries, we're all learning" and if they are still upset then I work to empathize with them.

I personally favour the "would it be possible to..." phrasing because it avoids "you" which I find for myself in my microculture comes across more blaming than the personless passive approach. But I bet this is pretty cultural. And the stuff I'm addressing is generally pretty minor and low-stakes for the most part. But you asked!

I have gotten better at these interactions watching how normal they are in a martial arts environment, where we aren't all born knowing how to tie a belt or sew patches on the right spots.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:54 PM on February 14 [8 favorites]


As a professor who works at a publicly funded (i.e. under-funded) institution that is always bean-counting, I frequently have to tell potential collaborators (from other universities, museums, libraries, or government entities) that I can't participate in the cool collaboration they want us to do unless they can somehow pay the university at least the equivalent of my salary for my time, and in reality, that will only get a grudging approval from my dean - it really needs to be the salary plus a multiplier for our overheads. And in the case of some universities, I have to say that I won't be allowed to collaborate with them at all because our institution sees them as our biggest competition.

I find it extremely cringe-inducing because I believe in collaboration and openness and that research and education are a public good that everyone should benefit from. But my bosses can't afford to share those beliefs.

Fortunately one of the higher ups told me recently that if I can't bring myself to have those conversations, I can say I'm really excited about the possibility of working with them, but refer them to her for the details, and she'll lay out the money thing. It doesn't solve the problem of when, e.g. the local council says they want to do a cool project that needs my research expertise on a budget of a few hundred dollars, and the university says, ha ha, no, you'd need to give us $50,000 minimum to make it worth our while. (True story).
posted by lollusc at 1:56 PM on February 14 [7 favorites]


It would be helpful to understand what problem you're trying to solve, because there are different ways to tell these stories.

I run user research and discovery for a digital product team with many designers. We're frequently the bearers of bad news, like "you developed a whole new navigation scheme to make things easier to find, and it was worse than the old one." Or user after user helpfully describes how ugly or useless a given baby is. We're lucky that most of the designers we work with are pretty senior, so they're not too attached to their baby, and we try to get in while the, uh, baby is developing, so as a team we can course-correct as needed.

I've also had to give employees constructive feedback, and that's also hard! I haven't had anyone argue with me ever (to be fair, I haven't had that many different employees) and so far I haven't had to say "change this or you're going to lose your job." I'm usually gentle and pretty tactical, and try to do a lot of listening. I'm sure they'll be harder at some point though; I've kind of lucked out.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 1:59 PM on February 14


Oh and to answer the other part of your question, did not get trained for HOW to have these conversations. Just told to have them.
posted by lollusc at 2:00 PM on February 14


“I’m sorry, the reason you can’t open any files on your computer is because it’s been infected with ransomware. Unfortunately, it’s corporate security policy that we not pay ransomware and that we erase infected machines immediately. When was the last time you copied your files to the server? Oh, never?”

I actually still don’t know a good way to have that conversation. I don’t have any say in corporate IT policies but I do have to follow them. Luckily this has only happened to me once or twice and in one of those cases my boss was right there and backed me up (no pun intended). The other time I was by myself and just documented the hell out of everything and made sure my boss got my notes. I said “I’m sorry” a lot and luckily both people took the news okay.
posted by Ampersand692 at 2:07 PM on February 14 [3 favorites]


I'm interpreting "awkward" as difficult or uncomfortable. Conflict is very uncomfortable for me, so I'm putting it under the awkward umbrella. In higher education, these conversations come up a lot: students ask for help with course content and it's clear they're really really lost and you're wondering how they've made it this far in the course not understanding basic terminology, so you have to gently guide them in the right direction without making them feel stupid or hopeless. Some students are asked to leave the university or you suspect them of cheating, and you have to confront them about it. Some students talk ALL THE TIME in class and always raise their hands and you have to find a way to kindly tell them to zip it for awhile.

There are lots of resources for learning how to do this, such as leadership courses/workshops/conference, books (I've heard of one called Difficult Conversations but haven't read it), therapists can also give you communication strategies for uncomfortable conversations. Some of it you also learn as you go (listening, acknowledging feelings, etc. as others have said is true). For my specific example of suspecting someone of academic dishonesty, the Honor Code office on my campus provides scripts for instructors to use when confronting a student about a suspected violation (it is very fact based).

This may be different from what you have in mind, but colleagues (in every work setting) also say inappropriate things at work that sometimes make me cringe. I have not figured out how to confront a superior who makes inappropriate (e.g., sexist or racist) comments. I usually just give a look that tries to convey "that's not ok to say" and change the subject.
posted by kochenta at 2:16 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


I work in tech and I can definitely say it’s communication. So many technically proficient people lack basic mindfulness and the ability to communicate what it is they need or are doing to their coworkers. At least I my experience. It becomes...frustrating to say the least.
posted by Young Kullervo at 2:20 PM on February 14 [4 favorites]


I’m a nurse and a midwife. Part of my job is telling people really difficult things: no heartbeat on an early ultrasound, severe anomalies on an anatomy scan, fetal blood tests that show disorders that may be incompatible with life, intrauterine fetal death. Also, HIV diagnoses, STI infections, tiptoeing around infidelity, pregnancy termination discussion. And, when a baby is born and it looks like the dad in the room is—surprise—not the dad of the baby (yes, that happens!)

I wasn’t taught how to have these conversations in school but learned along the way from other nurses, midwives, physicians, and counselors/social workers I’ve worked with over the years. I think I have gotten better because I’m not so scared of it anymore, but that doesn’t mean it’s ever easy. I’m certainly not desensitized; in fact, I’m now perhaps even more sensitive as I recognize the range of emotions that occur when I deliver the news. For some people, for example, the news of a non viable 5 week embryo is absolutely devastating and they’ll need to return to me for several consecutive weeks before coming to any acceptance, and some people will shrug and move forward right away. I suspect that when these conversations wear thin for me, I’ll have to hang up my hat, as watching bad examples has also been a powerful learning tool and motivation to do better.
posted by stillmoving at 2:27 PM on February 14 [18 favorites]


Teaching. Having to tell a student that their work is really not right at all.

And: having to tell a student that you have very good reason to believe that they have behaved unethically on course work.
posted by SaltySalticid at 3:29 PM on February 14


As someone who advises (depends upon, secures funding for) students doing research on collaborative experiments, dealing with advisees who are performing terrible work is incredibly hard. Firing a grad student is awful for everyone involved, no matter how much one tries to help with options and works to facilitate a soft landing. It's never discussed in professional circles, in my experience, except in dark moments among peer faculty who mostly wind up telling each other how bad they are at it over drinks. Those of us who are "nice" (also known as cowardly and conflict-averse) tend to let a bad situations go on for years before taking action, which doesn't actually help anyone. I hope, but doubt, it will get easier in time.
posted by eotvos at 3:54 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


Customer service... a lot of the time, unless the company is actively working against the customer's best interests which does make for miserable and angry customers and communicates itself to the customer no matter what the hapless representative does or can do to help ... it's not so much what you say, as how you say it.

This means fundamentally not thinking in your head that the person in front of you is an idiot (even if in fact they are behaving like an idiot) even when your words say otherwise. Contempt communicates itself in all sorts of ways. Also, an air of not being easily rattled or drawn into emotions is very helpful in this context. Of being attentively phlegmatic, not bored. Not everyone can do this successfully, mundane as this work seems.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 3:57 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


As a sportswriter, I had to interview the loser(s) of the game/match/event. The story will usually be about the winner, so from the loser, you're looking for quotes that add shading and context. And hopefully, it'll be something more interesting than, "This sucks." You want to know why they're feeling the way that they do, and whether there's more to the story than just the missed shot, the strikeout, the dropped ball.

The key is to have open-ended questions and prompts holstered, look them in the eye, be present, shut the hell up and let them spill. These questions should be focused on the internal. What's going through your head right now? Tell me what you were thinking when X happened? What did you say to your team in the locker room?

Avoid questions that could possibly have simple answers. How are you feeling? I'm feeling like shit, fuck you very much.

Ideally, you have a pre-existing relationship, if only that you introduced yourself before the event in some way (e.g. covering a practice session or preview). This makes the subject feel safer.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:04 PM on February 14 [3 favorites]


Here’s something really hard for me. Doing a job that is not meeting expectations or needs because those expectations keep shifting. And not being able to get any feedback about it. Like, not even being able to get someone to say, this could be better, or this doesn’t work, or the new direction means we’ll need to scrap your work and start over.

This baby is very very ugly and I am saying ‘I know I built a mister potato head using only eyes for all the face parts as place holders. Please help me find the bucket with the other face parts, or tell me if such a bucket exists or if I need to craft my own face parts from couch stuffing and leftover cheese? Also can you show me the scene this mister potato head will be in so I can make sure everything is to scale or the right mood or something?’ The reaction is ‘you’re doing fine! We are so happy with the thing you’re doing!’

And then weeks or months later being told, ‘we can’t use your terrible ersatz mister potato head and we expected you to work at night on your own time to find suppliers for mister potato head parts and also learn the history of mister potato head. Sorry we never told you that. By the way we also needed two Minnie Mouse figurines but that’s also not your fault.’ It’s 1000 times worse when they say it IS your fault.
posted by bilabial at 4:16 PM on February 14 [19 favorites]


I’m a stripper. I used to find it really awkward to quickly move on after I had been chatting with a customer and then a customer declined a dance. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Most of these people weren’t mean or anything; they just didn’t want or weren’t able to purchase a dance. I didn’t want them to think that it was all about the money.

Then after an embarrassingly long time, I realized: It’s all about the money. This is a STRIP CLUB and I am a STRIPPER and this is a HARD JOB. Customers often seem to think that sitting and chatting with my clothes on must not be work because civilian girls outside the club do it for free. (Common thing throughout life: People rarely think that having a conversation with them is work.) But of course, sitting and chatting with my clothes is a huuuge part of my work. Even if the conversation is nice, it is still work. I am allowed to value my time. Hell, if I don’t, no one else will.

Now I have a 15-minute cutoff for sitting and chatting. If the customer isn’t a regular, he has 15 minutes to show me that he is going to compensate me for my time. Maybe 20 minutes if it’s super slow and there are literally no other customers on the main floor I’d rather deal with. (And FYI, in most clubs, 15 minutes is super long.)

So after 15 minutes, I offer a dance. If the customer declines, I politely and cheerfully tell him, “Totally understand! Well, I’m going to get up and walk around a bit. But please let me know if you’d like to get a dance later or if there’s anything else I can do for you!” Then I get up and walk away.

It gets easier and far less awkward with practice. I’ve done it so many times now. Thousands, probably. The more that I treat this as a friendly-but-nevertheless-business transaction, the more other people will, too.

There are many other awkward parts of my job. Generally, the trick is that you act normal and kind (ALWAYS KIND) about it, like this isn’t anything to be embarrassed about. It happens often enough that it is literally part of your job! Reasonable people will understand—and people are more likely to act reasonable if you act like you expect them to be reasonable.*

* Not everyone is reasonable, but I've found that most people are—even in a strip club.**

** The people in a strip club who are unreasonable, however, are really, really, reeeally unreasonable.

posted by Peppermint Snowflake at 4:47 PM on February 14 [53 favorites]


I'm an academic advisor, and the specifics of my job mean that I work with a lot of people who are realizing that they're not going to achieve a goal that was really, really important to them. They often feel a lot of shame and grief about this. When I first started, I found it really awkward when students cried in my office. I don't find it awkward at all now. I think it's normal. The emotions that they're feeling are normal, and it's normal to express really strong emotions when you're feeling them. I try to let them know that it's ok to feel sad, and that it's normal to grieve. I hand them tissues and tell them that this is why I keep a box of tissues on my desk. If they ask, I tell them that students cry in my office all the time, which is true. I don't know that I think I've been desensitized: I think I'm just more comfortable with the idea that sometimes the kindest thing you can do for people is to give them permission to feel what they're feeling. It was only awkward because I believed it was awkward, and I have made a choice not to view it that way.

One thing that I still kind of hate is that I sometimes have to ask students if they're planning to kill themselves. I did receive some training about this, but not a whole lot. I've actually found that the conversation after I ask the question is usually fine, regardless of whether they say yes or no. But I am never going to feel totally comfortable asking the question, and I've just made my peace with that.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:05 PM on February 14 [11 favorites]


Like ArbitraryAndCapricious, I am in a line of work where awkward questions are a norm of sorts. As a mental health counselor, I find most intake questions are horrendously blunt, and I strongly doubt that taking an intake’s sheer nosiness at face value is good for a new patient. Sometimes the particular dictats are handed down by a governing body without clear reasoning behind it.

Here you have someone, suffering, possibly terrified, maybe never having done therapy before. I am essentially a stranger to them, and you want me to ask them WHAT?

Some of it is for the patient’s safety. And for those, I usually provide a heads up by presaging the big ones with “I know these questions are heavy for a first meeting.” Then I slow down and ask the doozies: have you ever wanted to hurt or kill yourself or someone else, etc. Have you ever hurt yourself? How? Do you ever see, hear, or sense things others don’t? These are the questions that, when answered truthfully, are often followed with some variant of “Doc, am I crazy?” That answer is the toughest.

I’ve learned to trust my gut and deliberately skirt the intake stuff that is simply too intrusive for a first meeting. Maybe insurance wants a total trauma history, with dates and explicit details in that first appointment, but screw that. I generally just ask if they have experienced something they would consider trauma that may be addressed in our work together.
posted by executive_dysfuncti0n at 7:38 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


Junior doctor. Awkward things - talks about sex, death, diseases. Giggly teenage boy with Mum sitting next to him with testicle pain, asking an elderly person how exactly they would like to die, talking about obesity related health conditions, transmissable diseases. Talking about our own screw ups - missed diagnoses, wrong medications given, surgical errors - see open disclosure guidelines. There are models for some of these - guides on asking about end of life plans, for talking about cervical screening, for encouraging someone to tell their partner they have an STI.

We do have some training on breaking bad news, and I think the best ways were with a patient actor and/or videotaping own performance. There's an EAR model for apologising - explain , apologise, reassure.

It's gotten a little easier with time, and it's a lot easier to deal with when you're not feeling burnt out. They take lots of time that's not always available, and they take more time if you haven't been able to take the time earlier on - for example if you initially took the time why you aren't going to do Test A for Condition B because of radiation exposure, the patient is more likely to be understanding when they turn out to have Condition B.
posted by quercus23 at 12:21 AM on February 15 [4 favorites]


I'll start with the second part of your question - my company has training called "crucial conversations" or some such, where you cover some of the typical hard conversations in a workplace - more along the lines of "hey, you didn't deliver the thing when you said you would deliver the thing and we have a problem now" and not so much along the lines of "your personal grooming leaves something to be desired."

They offer other training around influencing people rather than just telling people "I'm your manager / superior, do the thing." Funny enough, I noticed that training was mostly peer-to-peer or manager to reportee, not so much how to influence your manager or the executive team...

Right now most of my awkward conversations are of the "ugly baby" variety. I edit some of our corporate communications and have to apply a lot of different tests to material -- not just "do these vaguely resemble coherent thoughts?" which seems to be the standard most people adhere to -- but whether it's going to reflect well on the company, fits with messaging, is useful to the reader in some way, is timely, whether legal will approve it, etc. etc. Historically this function either didn't exist or was spread out among a larger team so there was not so much a discussion as a "no" by committee.

It's gotten much easier since I realized a huge part of work is difficult conversations. Life, really. I try not to take things personally, make the conversation about the thing and not the people, and try to empathize and show kindness even if I do have to tell somebody their baby is ugly. Some days are more frustrating than others, and conversations over email are harder than in real time - which, unfortunately, most are in email.
posted by jzb at 5:14 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Taking away people’s shoelaces, belts, and hoodies. Offering to cut drawstrings out of expensive sweats. Judging how straps might be contraband. Explaining why there’s a form saying, amongst other things, any cord is a restricted items which means a patient cannot have it in their physical possession.

(Psych nurse, intake department at an acute care inpatient hospital. No cords. ...because safety.... because you could hurt... yes, even the shoelaces... see, the hoodie has strings... because is my hobby!)

This was not touched on in school, the actual conversation wasn’t part of my training, and it’s gotten much easier not because I’m desensitized but more because I have it so frequently I am very neutral/blasé/matter of fact about it. We can cut out the drawstrings or jut lock the garment up for the few days of an admission, we can give hospital socks or take the laces out if the shoes will still work.
posted by RainyJay at 8:32 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


My job as a social worker vacillates between akward and intense.

Some of it I did learn in school especially the concept of creating safe spaces and holding enviroments. In also use a ton of verbal cues to establish boundaries and expectations very early on in conversations. Also I use alot of body language cues and tone.

I'm also very directive in this way and honest for example "I am going to speak to you once you are dressed." It aknowldges lots of things 1) what i will do. 2) what i expect of the patient 3) respect (regardless of the reason they aren't dressed) and doesn't leave room for arguement. It's effective.

Some of it is my nature, it takes alot alot to phase me. My akward and other people's akward is way different.

I have gotten way better over time, it really takes practice to be present and effective in alot of situations and to be attentive enough to change tatics when something isn't working. I think I do a pretty good job, but every once in awhile there is something I clearly could have done better. I just acknowledge in the moment and then move forward the best I can.
posted by AlexiaSky at 8:34 AM on February 15 [5 favorites]


I taught college writing for nine years. The most awkward conversation I had was with a student who had plagiarized her roommate's paper (not realizing her roommate had plagiarized it from a magazine - which I just happened to see). She cried and cried, then told me she had emergency surgery without health insurance and was being hounded by creditors. I let her rewrite the paper (in keeping with that department's policies - at another school I taught at, I would have had to fail her). The few times I've had students cry in front of me were very awkward - there's nothing to do but wait it out. They don't want to be crying, and that helps them preserve their dignity.

I was taught to say nice things about students' writing before saying something negative, e.g., your baby has a great personality, but she's also ugly. Once someone I knew at work asked me to read the first chapter of her novel. After reading it, I told her she was very brave to write a historical novel, then pointed out her anachronisms. She never asked me for help again - thank god. I am in a writing group, and it's fine to give critiques in that context, but lots of people who say they want to know what you think of their writing just want you to say it's wonderful.
posted by FencingGal at 9:06 AM on February 15 [3 favorites]


I've had to master the art of telling someone who probably has a personality disorder that their needs are not a good fit for the type of psychotherapy I provide. Sometimes there is a potential for financial gain for them if they do work with me, which means people have varying motivations for participating. It's a struggle to navigate the conversation without triggering that minefield.

Yes I have some training but also just common sense. I pay attention to how I say things. I don't start as direct as I could be. I give opportunities to save face. Sometimes I even offer ready made excuses. Some of this is a safety issue. Someone with a history of violence, I'd just as soon not be too confrontational in their first meeting with me.

Someone who is actively doing jump scares in an assessment into trigger fight/flight in the clinician and joking about punching me, well no I'm not going to say "I treat x and you seem to show symptoms more likely attributed to NPD or ASPD so this won't work for you."

Instead, I'm going to say, "you seem to have a handle on this already, so I'm not sure what we offer is really going to meet your needs. Since you mentioned y issue, here is a resource I recommend." Then I call the clinician and give full context so they don't accept the referral.

I guess I handle a lot of the awkwardness with manipulative diplomacy, sometimes in the interest of personal safety and other times in the interest of softening a harsh blow. There is an art to delivering feedback such that you can say almost anything and the person will thank you.

(The truly groundbreaking therapeutic work happens a bit beyond intake. The above is mostly about awkward intakes.)
posted by crunchy potato at 10:43 AM on February 15 [5 favorites]


I have an office job with most folks in their 30s and 90% of our conversations outside of work revolves around their very young children.
My husband passed away around this time last year and so these conversations are always very awkward for me as I'm the only one either without children, isn't trying, or isn't pregnant or expecting. I find I just stay quiet because my only reference for the conversation is what my parents did with me when I was little.
Ugh.
posted by hillabeans at 11:49 AM on February 15 [3 favorites]


I run a small business from home, and many of my customers end up visiting me, at my home, for business purposes. I provide continued support to many of these customers and some of them also repeat business in the future, thus visiting my house again several years later.

There were a couple of people who got to meet my ex-husband, and then a boyfriend later on. Trying to make conversation, they would call my boyfriend by my ex-husband’ name, ask about the boyfriend’s job while referring to my ex’s industry, and same thing with their towns of origin. Talk about Awkward! Also, having met my ex-husband, customers will inquire about him during a business conversation, and I have to tell relative strangers that we got divorced. Yeah, I'm not loving it.

I’m very private to begin with, and use social media for my business purposes, mostly, and don’t volunteer personal information to customers, so I understand it might be confusing for people that I’m in a relationship #3 since my divorce some years ago. So when customers show up, and boyfriend is present, I try to introduce them immediately: “Hello, come on in, this is my boyfriend Mark. How’re you?” But things like this still happen occasionally.

Also, when I travel to business related events, people will sometimes come up to me, their “baby” in tow, and ask my opinion about said baby. I learned that they don’t really want my opinion, they just want to show their baby off. So, no matter how ugly, I will take a good look at their baby, say non-committal WOW… WOW…, and then comment on one thing that I think is not ugly. “Your baby has amazing hair!” Or “Love her expressive eyes!” Or “What adorable little chubby hands!” Congratulate them and excuse myself.
posted by LakeDream at 12:51 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Early childhood mental health therapist here. The most awkward part of my job is when I have to give direct feedback to a parent about an interaction they're having with their child that is not healthy for the relationship. I got better at this mainly by 1) doing it over and over and over, and 2) reframing it for myself and for the parents as part of my job that has to be done even if it's uncomfortable, because it is a waste of the parent's time to come in and meet with me and not have me be direct and honest in a gentle way with them. I usually also focus on getting the parent's buy in to listen to what I have to say, often by saying something like, "I've noticed a couple things about your interactions with Jillian that might be hurting your relationship, and I know that's really important to you. Would you like to hear my observations and then maybe I can support you in thinking about shifting them?"

I have gotten pretty great at this - I ask permission to tell them the thing that they don't want to hear, which softens it and allows for them to be open to it.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 2:39 PM on February 15 [7 favorites]


My therapist prefaces it by saying " This is the part that is difficult for you to hear..."
posted by SyraCarol at 8:19 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


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