Saving An Awkward Situation

Alex Chen
5 min readApr 15, 2024


Have ever encountered an awkward conflict and not know what to do? That happened to me this past week, and I saw my mentor handle it really smoothly.

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Every week, I attend an online Chinese philosophy discussion class with a small group of people. Usually, one person shares a problem they are facing and what they’ve done to try to solve it, and then the MC guides everyone to discuss the problem together. At the end, our teacher and mentor gives feedback to all our discussed ideas.

This past week was supposed to be my turn to share. That day, I was really tired because I had another presentation as well, and I even had a headache. But I decided I can’t pull out last minute, as that’d be too little notice, so I endured my headache and went.

To my surprise, there was a new person, and the MC recognized this person. The MC said, “Oh today we have a special guest! We’ve worked together 3 years ago. It’s been such a long time! Let’s have him speak a few words.”

The MC just wanted him to introduce himself, but he misinterpreted the MC’s meaning to mean share about his entire situation and any problems he’s facing in life, so he was rather nervous and said, “Seriously? Can you give me some time to prepare?”

The MC said, “Sure,” and then she talked a bit about other things. Then she invited the guest again. When the guest started speaking, I realized that he thinks he needs to do a full sharing that would take up the time I was supposed to have. I messaged the MC asking, “Am I still sharing today…?” She replied, “I think he misunderstood my meaning…”

I messaged, “It’s OK. It’s a rare opportunity for him to get guidance from our mentor. I’ll let him have this opportunity today.” This worked out to be quite a serendipity because I also had a headache that day, so I was thankful that he unintentionally took my place.

After he shared his story and problems, he said he hopes to get to know everyone and learn from us. The MC asked us if we had any thoughts on what he had shared. No one raised their hand. The MC then asked us to all introduce ourselves to him. Clearly, she was off her game that night; after all, it’s rather strange that everyone should introduce themselves to this one new person, but our teacher didn’t say anything.

After our self-introductions, the MC then asked the guest to talk more about his job. He replied, “Seriously? We haven’t seen each other in three years, and this is how you treat me?”

The MC replied, “It’s precisely because I haven’t seen you in so long that I want to hear you share more.”

At this point, the awkwardness and tension had reached its peak. I had no idea how we could dissolve the tension.

Then our teacher stepped in and said, “I think maybe I should speak a few words now. I’m actually pretty happy that they are so excited to see each other again. It’s like when you haven’t seen a family member for a long time, and then you finally see them again, and you’re so excited that you forget how to MC. This is the family culture that we often advocate in Chinese philosophy. I hope everyone feels at home here. And even though each of you may leave here temporarily for personal reasons, know that we’ll always welcome you back just like family. As for whether or not you’ll be asked to share the first day you’re back, that’ll depend on the MC.”

After my mentor said that, everyone laughed, and the tension was gone.

My mentor then added, “We all need to inspect ourselves frequently: am I living consciously or habitually? In the past, our discussion class was always the same routine. Today, that routine was broken, and our MC struggled to adapt. So we need to all practice living more consciously, which would then allow us to adapt to new situations better. I also think today’s discussion is more interesting. Having some unexpected challenge adds spice and excitement, don’t you think?”

The rest of the discussion then continued pretty smoothly. After the class was over, I thought the MC might feel really embarrassed about her mess up and keep replaying it in her mind, so I messaged her saying, “Just in case you feel embarrassed about today’s MCing, I am actually quite thankful for it because I got to see how our mentor saves an awkward situation. Also, if I were in your situation, I’d be the same, if not worse. And everyone’s busy thinking about other stuff now, so hope you don’t keep worrying about it.”

She replied, “Thanks. This was a good test for my cultivation. Obviously I still need to improve my ability to remain calm in the face of surprises and my adaptability.”


Afterwards, I contemplated why my mentor was able to save that awkward situation. What do you think?

I think it’s because he always tries to interpret other people’s intentions positively. Indeed, the MC didn’t have any negative intentions, she was just nervous. By explaining her actions with positive intentions to the audience, people suddenly viewed her in better light.

This principle is widely applicable to daily life. Just this past week, I encountered two classmates slightly arguing about something and then being unhappy. I could’ve said something like, “Oh you guys really care about each other’s opinions so that’s why you would try so hard to communicate. Communication is not easy, and taking a break is helpful.”

Another time, after a classmate delivered a presentation, I said, “Nice job!” She said, “No it was mediocre.” I said, “Well no matter how hard we try, we’ll always have some mistakes. We need to judge ourselves based on our effort, not the result.” She replied, “But despite my effort, the result is still mediocre.”

At this point, I didn’t know what to say, so I just didn’t say anything. Looking back, the reason I was at a loss for words is because I didn’t try to interpret her intentions positively. If I had, I would’ve said, “Well, I admire how strict you are with yourself, and I’m sure you’ll learn and improve from this experience.”

Concluding Thoughts

When you encounter awkward situations or conflicts, do you try to interpret others’ intentions positively? Are you living consciously more or habitually more?

Originally published at on April 14, 2024.



Alex Chen

Passionate about self-cultivation, happiness, and sharing wisdom.