Embarrassing Stories – A Wonderful Way to Get to Know One Another?

It’s been over a month since I’ve commented on anything written by one of my favorite behavioral economists – Dan Ariely.

But fortunately he answered a letter in last week’s Wall Street Journal, and I found his reply quite amusing. Here is the letter and his response:

Dear Dan,

I’m going to host a party soon with some old and new friends, and I want to do something to break the ice. Any advice? —Moran

In such situations, I find it very useful to start the evening by declaring that the event will operate under Las Vegas rules: What happens at the party stays at the party. Next I tell people that sharing embarrassing stories is a wonderful way to get to know one another. Finally, I get things going by sharing one about myself.

To give you the feel for it, here is the shortest such story anyone has ever shared with me: “I’m going on a blind date. I knock on the door. A woman opens it. I ask, ‘Is your daughter home?’ The door closes. I turn around and leave.”

I love the blind date story. I can just picture the guy standing there while the woman closes the door in his face; there’s nothing he can do or say to recover from such a moment. So the only option is to leave, and perhaps mull over where he went wrong in life.

Anyway, I’ve shared a few of my embarrassing moments in previous posts.

One was the story of I when I walked into a glass door, in full view of all of my students. There’s even video of it, at least the sound of it and my trying to act as if nothing happened afterwards…

There was another classroom story, and it involved my getting a case of the giggles in the middle of a lecture. It took a couple of minutes and a case of turning bright red, but I was able to get back to talking about bond amortization.

A third one I’ve previously mentioned was the time I leaned too far back in my office chair, while talking with a student. The chair tipped over and I was flat on my back. If that weren’t bad enough, while trying to fix the situation, my foot got stuck in a trashcan. Fortunately, this was in the days before cell phones, or I’m sure the student would have snapped a few quick pictures and a video.

So in keeping with Dan Ariely’s suggestion, I’ll share one more embarrassing story, this one a non-Villanova moment.

This was back in my college days, and I think it was my senior year. We were at Syracuse University for a dual swim meet, and it was the first event of the meet, the 400 medley relay. I was swimming the butterfly leg, and on the third lap I lifted my head to take a breath, but all I got was a huge mouthful of water. I started choking quite badly, and all I could do was to stop and hang on to the lane line until I recovered. Needless to say, our relay team was disqualified.

While this was going on, I looked over at my teammates for some moral support, but all I could see was hysterical laughing, including my coach.

But my moment of embarrassment wasn’t quite over. When I finally got out of the pool, I wrapped a towel around myself and went to change out of my racing suit into an older practice suit. Apparently at some point while I was choking, a few of my teammates thought it would be funny to cover the inside of my old bathing suit with Icy Hot. As I put on the old suit and then sat down, I began to feel a tremendous burning sensation.

When I realized what it was, I quickly took off my suit, in full view of everyone, and changed back into my racing suit. Fortunately, swim meets rarely got big crowds. Plus, it was an away meet. So the repercussions of my full monty were minimal, but it provided my teammates, and coach, with another source of laughter.

So maybe that’s more than you wanted to know, but I guess that’s the point of sharing an embarrassing moment. You are admitting your vulnerability, and I think doing so makes it easier for other people to relate to you, since we’ve all been embarrassed.

I might just try Ariely’s suggestion the next time I find myself in a social gathering. I’ve already got a few embarrassing stories to share, and I think I might claim the blind date as mine as well…

2 thoughts on “Embarrassing Stories – A Wonderful Way to Get to Know One Another?

  1. Great stories Jim. You had me laughing out loud – to the point I had to tell people around me what I was reading. Well done!


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