I recently made an Instagram stories post about the concept of the “social life raft”and a subsequent socially awkward situation I found myself in at a Jimmy Choo. It involved Swarovski crystals…I know…SCANDAL, Kerry Washington, S-C-A-N-D-A-L.
Before I dive into what a social life raft is and how to successfully employ this communication technique…I want to point out that etiquette is never about being fake nice or snooty. Etiquette is about making people feel at ease, looked after, and treated with dignity. As you read my blog, writings, etc. I hope that is your one huge takeaway. Being a snob is always ugly and never en vogue.
The scene was the Jimmy Choo boutique in the Gold Coast of Chicago. A lovely place, with immaculate ring lighting and enough shimmer and sparkle to put Liza Minelli into either a frenzied state or a place of pure calm. My best friend had invited me out, to gaze upon the new collections and then we were to head out to dinner in Chinatown with another dear friend. I was in a great mood, everyone was dressed in black, and manners were being doled out left, right, and center. All was well.
I was making the rounds with my eyes when I decided to have a look at a particularly photographable stand with Swarovski crystal numbers and letters. Trendy slogans like “queen” and “bae” were part of the lineup – as were numbers. My best friend and I strategized that an acceptable usage of 4 jersey number style numbers on the back of your pumps would be to symbolize or immortalize a wedding year, etc. At this time a girl saddled up…we’ll call her Crystal Gale.
Crystal decided to strike up conversation first. Commendable, endearing, wanted and loved. With an endearingly chirpy voice she said “These are pretty cool.” SENSING, that Crystal Gale was in fact at the event alone and I was accompanied by an equally mannered friend – I decided to throw her a social life raft. A technique that is defined as such:
Social life raft: The act of perceiving an impending socially awkward or disagreeable situation and instead of allowing an awkward silence to permeate; one employs a face saving bit of polite conversation.
So I said to Crystal Gale, “Yes…and they look so well made.” To which she said in a quippy, matter-of-fact, how-can-you-be-so-blind-peasant kind of tone, “yeah…..because they are Swarovski crystals.” To which my friend and I…both sensing the tone and being turned off by it just looked on in horror like “what do we do now?” and moments passing turned on our heels to go look at more sparkly wares. I had thrown Crystal Gale a one woman life raft in a time of socially awkward need by acknowledging her statement and enthusiastically continuing conversation and she chose to bump, set, spike it back in my face. COOL.
It doesn’t matter what was going on in her world or in her head that she felt the need to be cool, curt, and rude to a stranger just trying to be polite and acknowledge her lone foray into conversation. My friend knew all of the PR folks there, I knew my friend and a number of bloggers, media, and people clad in head to toe black there – Crystal Gale seemed very alone. In extending a conversational olive branch and getting it snapped into kindling…it became apparent to me that the people need a walk through of what a social life raft is, how to spot one, and how to react and calmly carry out an exchange that isn’t quite frankly rude as all get out.
Why and How to Throw a Social Life Raft
The reasons you would throw a social life raft include: Someone is alone and has initiated conversation, made an outward observation, seems anxious to be alone, or is being talked to by someone they don’t enjoy being accosted by, additionally – someone has just made an awkward toast, comment, etc. and needs someone to make a funny, witty quip to redirect the collective energy towards a laugh.
The way to throw a social life raft is quite simple, you want to wait an appropriate second or two and cheerfully respond to the individual in question. Putting a smile on your face often puts a smile in your voice and can make what your saying come across as endearing, polite, and with no undertones of being aggressive, smug, etc.
What do you want to say? The answer is usually that you’ll want to respond to what the individual in question has just offered up to say, or you will want to simply compliment the individual on an article of clothing or something about themselves. If you are trying to redirect an awkward or poorly timed joke, agree with the individual in question and then say something self-deprecating to redirect attention and laughs at your expense. Of course remember to ensure it is a tasteful joke, or something too silly to be true. Or you’ll look like the South end of a North bound mule – and that is never a good look. Not even on an actual mule.
Lastly, you want to be able to receive a social life raft with grace and tact. As I explained in my Insta story, the person who is throwing you one in a time of need is actually doing you a favor and a solid. So if someone throws you a social life raft, the proper way to receive it is to match the warmth in your response with your tone and acknowledge their effort. They are going out of their comfort zone a bit to bring you back into yours. In doing so, they are showing that although you are a stranger to them – you deserve to feel welcomed into the broader group and not to feel at odds with the flow of conversation or isolated physically. Anyone with good manners would give a knowing look of gratitude to the life raft thrower and make mental note of the technique so that they can, in the future, extend a social life raft to another. In the words of Jerry Springer, be kind to yourself, and be kind to each other. xx M