Monday, September 26, 2011

How to Be a Grace When Someone Storms Out

Dear Grace,
I hope your foot is healing well, and everyone continues to be kind and helpful during your recovery and beyond!

I/we have been put in the uncomfortable position of having someone walk out of a group outing in what seemed to be a huff, and now won't return messages asking if things are ok. We've all been there-you're with a group, someone gets upset about something and walks off, leaving you to figure out why the person left and whether it's better to stay with the group (especially if you're the host!) or run after the huffy departee to try to figure out what went wrong.

I'm wondering what a Grace is to do in this situation, as I am sure that it will happen again eventually, and I want to be prepared in the future.

Many thanks,
All Huffed Out

Dear Huff,
Thanks for the good wishes; still in progress. Recently liberated from crutches after 4 looong weeks, but still have 4 weeks in the walking cast. Progress is progress; I'm thrilled with the newly gained mobility even if it involves an ugly boot and slow, wobbly motion.

But onto your dilemma.

Those who storm out are rarely Graces, all we can do is diffuse the erupting drama. If your guest has left the building, say something like: "Gosh, Jenn must be stressed out, poor thing. I'll give her a call tomorrow. Who's ready for dessert?" The key is not to let the eruption shanghai your gathering. If "Jenn" has simply left the room, you can excuse yourself and say, "Jenn seems really upset, let me go check on her. Anna, you were mentioning how much you enjoyed the season premiere of Modern Family, carry on." In the event that Jenn decides to return with you, continue diffusing--either by just rejoining the group and resuming normal conversation, or, if Jenn chooses to apologize for her outburst, lead the forgiveness charge, "No worries, Jenn, we've all had bad days from time to time. We were just talking about Chapter 7 when the contessa reveals herself to be the scullery maid's daughter. Were you surprised by that twist?"

The way of the Grace is to keep the get-together moving with the least amount of disruption and NOT allow the tantrum thrower to become the center of attention--either for good ("poor jenn, let's organize a girls' lunch to cheer her up") or for ill ("jenn is such a $#@&; I can't stand the way she acts."). It's oh-so-tempting to launch a dissection of Jenn's character, emotional state, personal life, and tendency to make grand exits with the remaining guests, but this is neither Gracious nor particularly fun. Much better to redirect, by means of conversational adroitness, refreshments, or a lasso, the original intent of the event.

As to your current situation, even Graces have limits. If you have made a sincere effort to reconnect and Tantrum Tess is not receptive, then give her some time. She may be genuinely steamed about something, or she may be mortified by her behavior. Good friends and Graces move on. After the requisite supportive overture (phone call/email/visit) offering TT a chance to talk it out and yourself a chance to apologize if indicated, then give it one more pass with a clear message that you have moved on: "TT, I'm going to X on Friday and I'd love for you to join me. Let me know if you're interested. If you need some time, I understand. Give me a call when you'd like to get together. Hope to hear from you soon." This puts the ball squarely in her court and lets her know that you are not dwelling on the episode.

Alternatively, if these grand displays are a regular part of your friend's interaction, you may want to rethink the friendship. Everyone has a bad day now and then, but if this is frequent and disruptive, you don't need to endure it. I'm not advocating that you shun her, like some ancient and bizarre religious cult, but you might decide to gradually reduce your exposure. Life is complicated enough without unnecessary controversy.

And speaking of dramatic exits, I leave you with my all time favorite entrance maker: Kramer. Gosh, I loved that show.

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