Dear Rachel,

There is a woman in my community who, although good-hearted, is quite aggressive in the way she speaks to people and has offended friends of mine at events in the past, because she tells everyone how she thinks they should live their lives. A woman I greatly respect has told me that this woman is known to be unstable, and although I try to be friendly, it is hard to avoid her. I hope to be making an event myself in the near future which my boss's wife and co-workers will probably attend. I don't want her to offend them and harm my reputation at work, but I cannot prevent her from coming. What should I do to avoid mutual embarrassment?

Miami, FL

Dear R.L.,

The situation you are in is tough as you don’t want to hurt or embarrass anyone, and yet, if you do nothing, then most likely that is exactly what will happen.

For starters I would suggest finding out who this woman speaks to and will listen to. Perhaps this person can speak to her about how she behaves and gently explain that not everyone is able to really receive her advice, as good meaning as it may be. Being that you state that she is known to be unstable, it could be that people ignore a lot of what she says based on this. At the same time, it may make it even harder to approach her directly or try to explain the situation or sensitivities to her if she is unable to understand them.

What I would try to do at any gathering where this happens, and yours included, would be to assign someone the job of keeping an eye on her, and ensuring that she doesn’t approach certain people or engage them in conversation. This is clearly not something you can do at your own event, but is something that someone else can do for you.

Find someone who is discreet, sensitive and trustworthy, and explain the situation and the dynamics to them. This person should then make sure to step in and try to distract this woman or pull her away from the conversation. If she refuses to leave and makes a scene, the fact that she is unstable will become perfectly clear and if anything, people will hopefully feel sorry for her rather than take offense to anything she might say. If a scene does ensue, there is no problem with you or someone else politely apologizing for her behavior.

I would also go to great lengths to sit her at a table with people who know her and will not be offended by her. The more people she has to speak with and spend the evening with, the less likely she will be to begin new conversations with others. Try to keep her busy and occupied and make sure that you also ask some of your friends to spend time speaking with your boss and his wife so that they feel welcome and included, and then even if she does somehow approach them and says something inappropriate, it won’t reflect on your “friends” but will rather be the behavior of one individual.

And being that you are sensitive to this situation, I would try to do the same for others as well. When you are someplace that she is present, try spending time with this woman, try steering her away from conversations that she shouldn’t be having. You must realize that it is not only important that she doesn’t offend others, but also that she doesn’t embarrass herself. If you focus on helping her and being concerned about her and how she feels, then there will be a positive atmosphere and one of caring as opposed to one of avoidance.

As Chassidic philosophy teaches us, when there is a problem, there are two ways of handling it. We can either try to push it away or we can add so much positive energy that the negative naturally dissipates. In your situation, this will be your win-win. You need to make sure that there is so much kindness, warmth, happiness and comfort at your event, that there will be no room or place for someone to be offensive. When people are busy talking to your new guests and likewise people make sure to speak to this woman and make her feel welcome, then everyone will feel comfortable and simply be able to enjoy the evening!

Hope you have a beautiful and joyous event!