Dumping water on your colleague is one possibility.
This is how you throw cold water on a fiery situation.
On the August 22nd edition of America’s Got Talent, Simon Cowell went after fellow judge Mel B, who is currently in the process of divorcing her second husband, Stephen Belafonte. Critiquing a magician’s performance gone awry, Cowell said smugly: “I’m kind of imagining that this would be like Mel B’s wedding night. Full of anticipation. Not much promise or delivery.”
In response, the former Spice Girls singer tossed the contents of her large cup of water directly in Cowell’s face, before storming off the set. According to US Weekly, she later characterized his comments as “so rude and inappropriate.”
On social media, viewers expressed a range of opinions.
Mel B has every right to be angry about what Simon said like seriously there is another reason why I do not like him…. #AGT
— mckenna 💭🎧💙 (@McKennaFJohnson) August 23, 2017
Grow up Mel B. Stop throwing water everywhere. LOL #AGT
— Vankyo (@YVRHND) August 23, 2017
Simon is mad disrespectful. Glad MelB splashed him. #AGT
— NB (@nakeva_barrett) August 23, 2017
Most people haven’t been doused with water at work due to an inappropriate comment, but many of us have experienced a highly awkward or volatile interaction between colleagues before.
“It’s very sensitive to talk about one’s family, one’s children,” says Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach — who describes the comments as out of line, and cautions that it’s best to avoid making jokes about marriage, sexuality, or physical or racial attributes. “To me, that’s off-limits, and… that may warrant somebody throwing water in somebody’s face.”
But if someone does go after you in a way that gets under your skin, how should you respond?
“There’s nothing wrong with saying to someone, ‘That was extremely hurtful, and I don’t appreciate that comment,'” Whitmore recommends. “Sometimes we just go through life and say things without thinking, but [you can still] call the other person out on their behavior.”
She adds that giving someone a sharp look can be enough to put them in their place — discreetly. “Oftentimes silence is more deadly [than a verbal response].”
What makes Mel B’s run-in with Cowell unique is that it took place in front of an audience of millions. “Mel B is out,” host Tyra Banks announced during the uncomfortable confrontation. “This is live TV.”
“You should never engage in front of an audience. You don’t want to make it look like a drama,” says author and etiquette coach Karen Thomas. While taking issue with a colleague’s remark is fine, it’s best to do it in private, she adds — so if there’s a group of coworkers watching, you might simply want to walk away.
“On live television, it probably wasn’t the time for Mel B to sit down and have a serious talk with Simon, but in an office, once a situation has diffused and people are calm, it’s okay to go back and talk to the person,” she explains.
Thomas adds that you can say something like, “The things you said really upset me, and I don’t feel that it was appropriate,” as appealing to someone’s empathy can circumvent further conflict.
If they perpetuate the same behavior or remain unwilling to hear you out, that’s the time to either move forward or go to your manager. “Always follow the chain of command in business,” Thomas advises. “If your manager doesn’t fix things, the next step is HR.”
Both Whitmore and Thomas agree that humor is another effective tool to break tension-filled ice. “Maybe that’s what happened on your wedding night, but not mine,” Thomas suggests, to turn Cowell’s original dig into a clever retort.
That said, you don’t have to sidestep the situation to make up for someone else’s wrongdoing. “If somebody said [Cowell’s] comment to me,” Whitmore concludes, “I’d just look at them with a deer-in-the-headlines look and say ‘Really?'”
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