Have you ever had an encounter with a friend or family member that just left you shaking your head in disbelief? You know the kind of exchange I'm talking about. You're having a perfectly normal conversation, and then all of a sudden, the person says something that sounds so crazy, so preposterous, that you're sure there must be a hidden camera somewhere or that your friend may actually be going off the deep end. And you have absolutely no idea how to respond. So what do you do?
My girlfriend Sara told me about a situation like this that she went through with her older sister not long ago. They had been at a mutual friend's house for dinner. The friend freely admits to not being much of a cook, but this evening she really went out of her way to fix a delicious meal. Sara complimented her friend on the super job she'd done, knowing what an accomplishment it was for her. As they chatted about it, Sara's sister suddenly blurted out, "Well Sara, what about me?" Stunned, Sara and her friend immediately stopped talking. Sara's thoughts were spinning in her head, "Why is she saying that? She had nothing to do with cooking this dinner. What does she mean?" Neither Sara nor her friend knew how to respond to such a crazy question. And so they simply said nothing.
When I heard my friend's story, I couldn't stop laughing. Moments like that are certainly not funny at the time, but when you share them with a friend later (or even just remember them in your head), they do illustrate the craziness of life. We all know people like Sara's sister who can catch us so off guard at times that we simply don't know how to respond. And so like Sara and her friend, we typically don't respond, or we don't respond well. But the situation still rattles us. We wish we had a clever snappy comeback, or at least something to say to reflect the insanity of what we just heard. Anything is better than doing or saying nothing, right?
I had something similar happen to me with someone who was a new friend. I really didn't know her well so she really caught me off guard. She had called me on the phone. We had not chatted for quite some time, and so we had a lot of catching up to do. When she asked me what was going on in my life, I naturally started to tell her. I'd only been talking for a few minutes, when all of a sudden she interrupted me and said, "Can we stop talking about you now so I can tell you what's going on in my love life?" It was a good thing we were on the phone, because my mouth dropped wide open! And my stunned silence naturally gave her the opportunity she was looking for to jump right in and start telling me all about this new guy she was dating. I never got another word in!
These scenarios may happen with people we love, or with people we wish we could love, if it wasn't for the fact that they just make it so hard to love them. If you have a friend -- or worse, a family member -- who can stop you in your tracks like this, here are a few tips to help you gracefully deal with the next bizarre situation that comes up.
1. Don't take it personally. This is the most important piece of advice to remember because whatever goofy things these people say, the truth is that they probably don't mean to upset you or offend you. They probably act the exact same awkward way with everyone. So their actions really speak more about them than they do about you. That doesn't change the fact that they've created a real sense of discomfort -- let alone that what they say can sometimes even be downright hurtful. When you're in the company of people like this, you can pretty much predict that your friend or family member will say or do something outrageous. So just learn to expect it. It helps take the sting out of the comment.
2. Prepare how you'll respond in advance. Before you are even around this person the next time, because you are already expecting that this sort of thing will probably come up again, be thinking of what you could say. Come up with a kind of generic response that would be appropriate in just about any context so you're not left standing there, hemming and hawing. You could say something as simple as, "Really?" Or maybe even, "Did you just say ______?" (repeating back to the person what he or she just said, so the person can hear how ridiculous it sounded). That generally does the trick!
3. When all else fails, just laugh. Seriously! Go ahead, laugh out loud! I'm not suggesting you laugh in a mean way, of course, but in a way that speaks to the craziness of what you just experienced -- with that oh-you-are-so-funny kind of tone. Laughter sends a message that no words can ever quite match. And as long as it isn't done as a put-down, sharing a laugh is always a positive, feel-good way to communicate without words!
4. Relax. Just relax into the satisfaction that if nothing else, you now have a great story to tell your friends!
So make sure you plan ahead for that next situation you have with your friend, family member, or maybe like me, with someone you don't know that well. And again, if all else fails -- it'll be a fabulous story to share!
For more by Deanna Brann, Ph.D., click here.
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