Awkwardness is the world’s greatest fear when it comes to socializing.
There are few things we wouldn’t do to avoid the dreaded “awkward moment”, but if we understand how an awkward moment actually works, we can learn how to prevent it. Thus I present:
The Anatomy of an Awkward Moment
- An incident occurs
- You (and/or the other person) are unsure how to react
- You (and/or the other person) are obviously uncomfortable
Basically, awkwardness is just discomfort that both parties are aware of. But don’t worry, there’s hope; it’s possible to avoid awkwardness altogether.
Ever heard the saying “It’s only awkward if you make it awkward”? This is 100% true, and making a few adjustments to your social behaviors will prevent you from “making it awkward” ever again.
Avoiding Awkward Silences
One of the most commonly occurring “awkward moments” that people experience is the awkward silence.
The first step in avoiding awkward silences is coming to the realization that silence itself is not awkward (I promise). It’s what you do during the silence that makes it awkward.
Fidgeting, clearing your throat, pursing your lips, and darting your eyes around the room are body language signals that indicate your discomfort. Doing these things will signal to the other person that you’re uncomfortable, and alas– an awkward moment is born.
Instead, acting comfortable and relaxed during a lull in conversation will make the other person feel comfortable and relaxed, and you will have successfully avoided an awkward silence. This is what we call a “comfortable silence,” and it has much better Yelp reviews than the other type.
Understanding that silences are a natural part of human interaction and are perfectly normal will prevent you from panicking every time one rolls around. Plus, a lapse in conversation is far less awkward than whatever nervous gibberish you could come up with to prevent it.
Handling Awkward Mistakes
Pretty much everyone has gone in for a handshake, a hug, or a kiss that went totally wrong (and if you haven’t, don’t worry– you will). Whether it’s that your timing was off, you bumped noses, or you missed the target completely, you probably wanted to sink into a hole of misery and never be heard from again.
Did you apologize profusely? Did you repeatedly talk about it after it was over? Did you make it a bigger deal than it really needed to be?
If so, then you just turned a “laugh it off and move on” moment into (dun dun dunnn)– an awkward moment.
What you should have done instead is this:
- Laugh about it. Laughing at your own mistake gives the other person permission to laugh as well. Now you have set the precedent for how to react, and this eliminates the tension that would have resulted otherwise.
- Briefly apologize. Apologize for your mistake, but keep it short. Obviously, the severity of the mistake will determine the way you go about your apology. Laughing and saying “Oops, sorry!” is appropriate when you mess up a handshake, but a bit more is called for if you spill coffee on someone’s white pants. After you have apologized, let the mistake end there; do not bring up the incident again once it’s over. Harping on it will make the incident seem worse than it is, and it will cause people to continue thinking about it when they could have forgotten already.
- Make a joke. By following your apology with a joke, you will be indicating that you don’t take yourself too seriously and that you’re “cool” (i.e. not awkward) to be around. The people who witnessed the incident will subconsciously receive the message “This isn’t a big deal. Everything’s fine.”
A story my parents like to tell about one of their first dates is a great example of this three-step system. While at dinner, my dad took a sip of his tea and some spilled out of his mouth onto his chin and shirt. Rather than rushing to the bathroom or acting embarrassed, he wiped his chin, laughed, and said “Oops, I guess I must be full!”
My parents still remember this moment, not because it was awkward, but because it was funny and my mom was charmed by his calm and witty response. Had he reacted differently, the moment easily could have become an awkward one.
Moments are not naturally awkward. But when people feel uncomfortable as a result of the “moment,” it quickly becomes awkward. Preventing people from feeling uncomfortable (by not acting uncomfortable yourself) will cause moments that otherwise would have been awkward to pass smoothly and naturally.
Tell us your awkward experiences (we know you have them) in the comments below!