The 8 Steps To Surviving An Awkward Conversation

Some tips to successfully face a committed interaction.

Whether you are thinking of bringing up the matter with your coworker about their personal hygiene, or if you are faced with a dramatic situation where someone needs you to comfort them because something serious has happened, you are likely to feel compelled to remain silent.  

It is natural, since these types of conversations are usually really uncomfortable.

How to deal with an awkward interaction?

When there is a subject from which it is inevitable to slip away and we are not able to articulate a speech towards that person, discomfort and environmental tension can increase.

Once you are determined to face the situation, do not forget these tips that will help you ensure that the pending conversation does not turn into a bad drink.

1. Avoid silences

The investigations reveal that, after only four seconds of awkward silence, our anxiety levels soar. Also, the more  anxious you feel, the more difficult it will be to articulate the words.

To avoid this you should, as far as possible, plan the interaction a little in advance. If you know what you want to communicate, your message will be clear and clear and you will save yourself the discomfort generated by a choppy conversation and with the dreaded silences.

2. Talk in an intimate place

It is not a good idea to have a relevant conversation in a crowded place with distractions (people nearby, noise …). Find a private place where you can feel relaxed and where there are no people who can overhear or intrude.

If the other person starts talking about that uncomfortable topic before you do, suggest that they find a comfortable place so that they can discuss it in confidence and without outside interference.

3. Take a seat

When you have to talk about an uncomfortable topic, it is a good idea that we are resting on a sofa or chair. We will feel more comfortable, especially if the subject is thorny or can lead to a significant emotional upheaval.

This is an aspect that we discussed in the post:  “How to give bad news? 12 emotional keys “

When you sit next to (or in front of) the other person, try to keep you at the same height. If you stay standing and the other person is sitting, you will give an image of superiority that can be very negative for the good of the interaction.

4. Start with a wake-up call

Tough conversations can be just as incisive but better received if you employ a pre-warning call. For example, instead of saying: “Miguel, the rest of the workers cannot last more than a minute near you”, you can start with a phrase that softens the context, such as: “Miguel, what I’m going to tell you may be a little difficult to fit in. “

This nuance gives the other person a few seconds to prepare mentally and emotionally for what you will tell them after a moment.

5. Accept your discomfort as normal.

Trying to deny the discomfort can have the opposite effect than desired. We can still feel more uncomfortable with the situation that we must face. If you notice something shaky, restless and you are unable to maintain eye contact with your interlocutor … accept that you are a little nervous.

It is highly recommended that, in a situation of this type, you can say a phrase that makes known the discomfort shared with the interlocutor. For example: “I feel a little uncomfortable talking about this.” This will make your interlocutor empathize with you and the level of discomfort is likely to drop.

6. Be polite but also direct

It is essential that you manage to express yourself correctly and trying not to disrespect. Here’s a basic tip: you have to be careful if you want your message to come to fruition. However, you can run the risk of softening your words to the limit and this can generate a weak message that is not received with the necessary forcefulness on the part of your interlocutor.

Therefore, it is interesting that you stick to the facts, use your assertiveness and get a clear message, without too much circumlocution and going directly to the root of the matter.

7. Practice active listening

Communication is a matter of two. You must let your interlocutor process the information that you have just sent him, calmly. To be a good listener, it is important that you be receptive when listening to the other person’s reply, trying to put the matter in common and trying to resolve some points or misunderstandings.

If what you just said is especially harsh, you should be prepared for the other person to experience (and express) strong emotions. These can range from embarrassment or sadness to  fear or  anger. In any case, you should try to make the person feel that they have support in you, and give them time to cope with the situation.

Learn more:  “Active listening: the key to communicate with others”

8. Bring the conversation to a clear end

Uncomfortable conversations can also turn into endless and overwhelming situations where quarrels or issues from the past can be brought to light, leading to an even more uncomfortable and absurd situation that only results in more discomfort and confusion.

To avoid this, you should have a way to close the conversation in a clear and concise way in advance, in addition to making explicit what we hope will result from the conversation. In this way we will be “closing the situation” and sending a concrete and unambiguous message about the meaning of the interaction. If you want the other person to explain, let them know. If you want the conversation to just end, say so too.

Bibliographic references:

  • Koudenburg, N., et al., Disrupting the flow: How brief silences in group conversations affect social needs, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (2011), doi: 10.1016 / j.jesp.2010.12.006

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