Looking at an embarrassing situation from an observer’s perspective can help you overcome feeling mortified, according to new research
Here’s one way to beat the egg on your face.
People can overcome embarrassment by seeing the situation from an observer’s perspective, new research suggests — as opposed to that of someone caught in a mortifying moment like scrambling for a tampon at work.
It’s all a matter of shifting your point of view. “The best way to get (people) to calm down is to have them put themselves not in the shoes of the person being embarrassed, but in the shoes of the bystander watching somebody be embarrassed,” study co-author Aimee Drolet told Moneyish.
The research, published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, was aimed at helping consumers who are too embarrassed to purchase a product that could ultimately save them from future embarrassment, e.g., gas-prevention medication or adult diapers. “Companies certainly make products aimed at preventing feelings of embarrassment,” said Drolet, a professor of marketing at UCLA, “but those products tend to be embarrassing to purchase.”
The decision, she said, boils down to “this negotiation between short-term thinking and short-term feeling versus the longer horizon.”
Drolet and her co-authors examined this idea of viewing embarrassing situations as an outsider through three experiments, using samples of mostly university students. The studies had respondents react to ads that depicted a person accidentally farting during yoga class, solicited volunteers for research on sensitive health care issues like STDs, and described a man passing gas in front of his crush.
For people who embarrassed easily, observing from an outsider perspective helped them calm down and act more charitably toward themselves, Drolet said. “If you are easily embarrassed and you think about a bystander, you’re forced to say, ‘You know what? It’s not so bad.’” And for less embarrassable folks, it helped drive home the potential embarrassing consequences.
So the suggestion that an “embarrassing event has occurred” can help companies develop advertising materials, Drolet said. A tampon or maxi pad ad, for example, could show a product failure resulting in stained underwear. “You would never see an ad like that,” she said. “However, that is precisely the kind of ad that would motivate most people … to actually purchase that product.” Having someone spot a stain on your pants, after all, is far more embarrassing than just buying the pads or tampons.
The study’s findings can translate to an everyday workplace scenario: If a woman in need of a tampon were too embarrassed to ask her boss for one, Drolet suggested, envisioning the far more humiliating consequences could push her to get over her fear and act in the short term.
“You have to sort of say, ‘OK, let’s say you don’t get the tampon — maybe you can put some toilet paper down there. But it’s going to leak, it’s going to ruin your suit, and then it’s going to be on the chair,’” she said. “All you have to do is ask. But if you don’t, (those are) going to be the consequences.”
Another path to overcoming embarrassment, according to Sam Houston State University professor of psychology Rowland Miller, is to “understand that among adults … embarrassing circumstances are usually entirely trivial. And people typically respond generously and with good humor to embarrassed others in their midst.”
Bottom line: “Get over yourself — nobody cares that much,” Miller told Moneyish. “You’re the one that’s making a mountain out of a molehill.”
© 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved