A Sticky Situation

If you’ve ever had to react on the spot to a situation that was so sticky, so icky that it left you speechless, read on to see how a friend of mine handled a recent conflict.


A very good business friend of mine faced something ugly. She had been asked to speak at an event that had rated her their #1 speaker the previous year. As they know she is busy, they tempted her with an offer to double her speaking fee. Naturally, she said “Yes!” (Watch my video on this topic here.)


As the event approached, one of the event sponsors, a successful local business owner–and an acquaintance of my friend–emailed her, saying how she was looking forward to sharing the stage and, “Oh, by the way, are you being paid?” Letting down her guard, my friend answered “yes” and hit send.

Well, the proverbial doo-doo hit the fan. This sponsor immediately called the event organizers to complain, loudly. The result was a call to my friend by the organizers scolding her for having shared that information (nope, no agreement not to do so), and saying that they were withdrawing their offer to pay her. BUT, they still wanted her to speak!

The true professional of this trio had the presence of mind to take a deep breath, do the calculations in what must have been a fraction of a second, and react.

First, in a very calm tone, she apologized. Then, she agreed to speak sans fee, telling them, “I made a commitment and I intend to keep it.” As a final, cherry-on-top gesture, she sent a bouquet of flowers to the organizers, offering her regrets again and noting how she was looking forward to speaking at the event and helping make it a success.

The reaction from the organizers was made-to-order. In an email, they sheepishly told her they were surprised by this kind gesture, appreciative that she’d let them off the hook (IMHO, they did not behave very well) and said they hoped that she understood their position.


I’ll tell you, as she was telling me this story my blood began to boil. (Yes, I’m a bit of a hothead.) She told me it ruined her day. She was incredulous this acquaintance would do such a thing.

Here’s what we can learn, however, from my friend’s cool-headed and professional mindset…

  • Always ask yourself, “How do I emerge from this sticky situation intact?” That should always be the goal.
  • Don’t share compensation information. This continues to be a highly fraught topic. Think twice before doing so.
  • The customer is always right–even when they’re wrong.
  • Apology and reinforcing gestures, like sending flowers, are incredibly powerful communications tools that can immediately defuse a conflict.
  • Manage your emotions and remain outwardly calm no matter how you may be feeling inside.

And how should she now handle the trouble-maker? My advice from working for years with public figures who face their fair share of sticky situations was this: Smile, make direct eye contact, give a firm handshake, talk about something like the weather, and after about 5 seconds, politely say, “Would you please excuse me? There’s someone over there I need to speak to. Have a great day!”

What sticky situations have you experienced and how have you handled them?

Ruth Sherman Associates LLC / High-Stakes Presentation Skills Coaching, Consulting & Media Training for CEOs, Celebrities, Politicians & Entrepreneurs / Greenwich, CT

About the author

Ruth Sherman, M.A., is a strategic communications consultant focusing on preparing business leaders, politicians, celebrities, and small business entrepreneurs to leverage critical public communications including keynote speeches, webcasts, investor presentations, road shows, awards presentations, political campaigns and media contact. Her clients hail from the A-list of international business including General Electric, JP Morgan (NY, London, Frankfurt), Timex Group, Deloitte and Dubai World