Thank god I have never met Anna Wintour because I’m pretty sure I’d accidentally kiss her on the lips.
It wouldn’t be intentional, obviously. It would not be planned. It never is. But despite endless training from non-American friends, one etiquette coach and years of industry-filtered immersion, I have yet to properly anticipate the one-kiss, two-kiss, handshake hug or wave-hello thing. What I like to do is announce “I am hugging you now” after it’s too late and I’m in. It helps bypass the pucker but it makes for a strange first impression.
First impressions are easy to prepare for: wipe the sweat off of your palms, look someone in the eyes, smile. You are probably generally polite. There are plenty of articles online that will coach you through the pre-season of meeting someone, of planning for interviews, of cocktail parties and seated dinners. But what about when life happens, you’re out a bar and someone stomps right down onto your foot so you shout, “WHAT THE FUCK??!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Then that person turns around and it’s your new manager — the one you haven’t yet had the formal pleasure of meeting.
It’s not our first impression prep-work that needs guiding, but our Bad First Impressions. Because they happen. And good thing I have flubbed it all, because I am here to help you.
What to do if…
You were mean: I have been here both by accident and on purpose. I, too, have been tired, cranky, sleepy, PMS-ing, interrupted, barfed on, spilled on, mad about an event that caused me to stew in anger all day or just decided I don’t like someone. Because of these human emotions, I have also said something that I either immediately regretted or recalled two days later like…!!! I was such a psychopath to that person!!!
If you have their email or phone number, a simple text that says, “Hey, was in a weird mood when we ran into each other yesterday. I apologize if I took it out on you. I loved your shoes, talk soon.”
Choose your form of communication and tone depending on how well you actually know the person (i.e. email versus text) but seriously, just do it. Immediately. You’ll feel better after.
You were late: The easiest fix is to never be late to meet this person again for six entire months. The second easiest fix — and do it either way — is to apologize once, then drop it. Don’t get weird about it. A very classy fix (that gets expensive if you are perpetually late to breakfast meetings) is to take care of the bill or at least get your meeting partner’s coffee on the sly so that she does not have time to protest.
When all else fails, blame food poisoning then stay committed.
You said something strange in an interview: I once jumbled names out of nervousness while telling a very important editor in a very important full-time job interview who my favorite photographer was. Because I was nervous, I proceeded to ramble on in a deranged way. And because I interned at her place of full-time work, I continued to see her for a week after, and every time, I dropped whatever I was holding. Finally, a much older friend who I had been replaying the scene over and over to told me to send the this email (following my hand-written “Thank You.” Still send those!):
It was a pleasure meeting you Monday, and I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. I realize I misspoke when we were discussing photographers — I meant _____, and wanted to send along a link to his recent show that reminds me of your work in X issue. [NOTE: B.S. accordingly there.] Thought you’d enjoy it. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
THEN SIGN OFF AND GET THE FUCK OUT OF HER INBOX.
I’m unsure as to whether or not I remain “The Rambling Potential Serial Killer With Butter Fingers” in her mind, but I do like to think that I redeemed myself in terms of the photographer thing. At the very least, I rest better six years later knowing that she knows that I know I made a mistake, and that I didn’t mean it.
You forgot how to speak: You’re at a birthday dinner after work on a Thursday and your brain stopped working because it’s 8 p.m. and the person next to you asks how your week has been. You say, “You, good? Mashed peas. What? Taco. Alcatraz!”
There, there. I know. Me, too. If they haven’t walked away, just say to them, “Whoa, sorry. It’s 8 p.m. on a Thursday and my brain stopped working. I’m doing well, how are you?” Mind the time and date there.
Honesty is the best policy so that they don’t think you’re experiencing a synapse misfire. (Although you might be? I am not a doctor.) Then just smile, blink, nod and when they’re done talking excuse yourself to the bathroom.
You blacked out: Similar scenario but a little bit harder to recover. You’re in a conversation, someone else is speaking, you black out and suddenly you come to and their head is tilted in such a way that you realize they’ve asked you a question. Your panic spirals you back to seventh grade when the teacher wants to know the answer and you’ve been busy drawing photos of yourself riding dragons.
I swear that you can actually say, “I’m so sorry, can you repeat that? Is it loud in here?” They will agree, because it’s always too loud everywhere these days! And then going forward with this person, you actually must pay attention. (Zzz, I know.)
You did something physically awkward: Pretend it never happened. You’re a person, they’re a person, everyone has been there and I promise that you’ll win them over next time.
Worried that you’ll never meet them again? Then literally, WHO CARES WHAT THEY THINK. Hit repeat on that button, take two Advil and call me in the morning. I’ll be down in the comments section.
Feature photograph from Mean Girls via Netflix.