Handling Awkward and Embarrassing Situations with Humor

Here's a great story from our very own Kendra Richgels, who knows how to think on her feet given even the most unexpected surprises...enjoy!

It was mid-afternoon on the second day of an extremely difficult negotiation involving 20+ individuals.  Tensions were high and the mood was serious.

Suddenly, I received a note from my female negotiation partner.  “Do you have a sewing kit and do you know how to sew?”  I looked over and one of the buttons on her carefully selected new coat dress had fallen off from a key section of the dress.  Turns out the buttons were metal buttons and were slicing through the threads holding the buttons in place.

We had precious few hours left to complete the deal and were moving into a critical part of the day with a small group selected to complete the legal terms.  We had found the attorneys from the other party oblivious to our charm and were finding it tough to crack their serious and difficult nature.  Due to the timeframe, location and logistics, leaving for a wardrobe change was not an option.  We devised a workaround for this button without calling attention to the issue.  An hour or so later, a second button popped off.  No longer able to contain her laughter at the absurdity of the situation, my colleague burst into laughter, announcing to the tension filled room that she must apologize, but her dress was exploding. 

We all know that appearance in a negotiation is critical.  The right clothing goes a long way to setting the tone for the negotiation.  However, wardrobe malfunctions happen to everyone.  The exploding dress continued to lose buttons throughout the remainder of the long evening, a situation we handled with laughter and seeking assistance with the other part’s team to laughingly find alternative button holding solutions.  The humor of the situation connected the parties and continued to act as the spigot to release the tension built in a room.  The way we handled the situation exemplified exactly what we were looking to do in the negotiation - to improvise practically and creatively in the scene at hand.

The “Exploding Dress” story exemplifies how an absurd situation handled correctly can be turned into a positive outcome with the use of humor.  Often, the ability to use humor as a connector between the parties presents itself unexpectedly.  Having a responsive sense of humor in contentious settings weaves together laughing matters and deeply serious ones.