Seven seconds of awkwardness

What was the last embarrassing social interaction you had?

You know … something along the lines of not realizing that two people you’re in a regular social group with are married when apparently everyone else not only knew, but assumed that was just common knowledge.

How long did that stick with you?

“Life is a painful and excruciating misery, made worse by the fact that we have a boundless capacity to put our feet into our mouths. Simply by existing, we’re all humiliating ourselves all the time.”

— “Just Give It 7 Seconds,” Leah Beckmann, Jezebel

As someone for whom Nikes (and sometimes more-formal footwear) have been an essential part of my diet for years, I can relate.

When that happens, Beckmann writes to think about it and laugh at yourself for no more than seven seconds, with the caveat that it only applies to “benign, awkward, even mildly annoying behavior, but not to outright rudeness.”

Her rationale is that seven seconds is the “exact amount of time you need to remember the thing you said, cringe deeply, and then snuff it right out,” but not long enough to write an email apologizing, because “no one is dwelling on the thing you’re dwelling on because they are too busy dwelling on their own personal queasiness they inflicted on someone else. And on and on forever, like a clammy line of dominoes straight to hell.”

It’s good advice … but what it if takes longer than seven seconds to realize something you said or did may have stupid?

Let me give you an example. A couple years ago, I had a casual conversation with a co-worker — I don’t even remember about what — and a couple minutes after it was over, it hit me like a poleax upside the head that I may have said something insulting.

Needless to say, it took a lot longer than seven seconds to try to figure out if it was just me saying something goofy again or if I actually had messed up. Maybe I could have blown it off if she was a stranger, but she was a friend.

So after that more than seven seconds, there was another more than seven seconds to figure out what to say and when to say it. Do I find her at her desk? Call her in when she walks past my office? Conveniently wind up in the kitchen at the same time?

I don’t remember what I did in the end … but she wasn’t bothered in the slightest.

Turns out, she’s almost impossible to offend.

Seven seconds probably would have done the trick.




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