Feel Less Awkward With This Simple Technique

By Shawn McKibben

November 13, 2014   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man


We’ve all had that moment when we just don’t know what to say. That lull in conversation coupled with an awkward silence can make anyone feel uncomfortable.

One of my most prominent memories in awkward conversation is what I call, the curse of the empty drink.

I’d be at a bar with an empty drink in hand, and when I didn’t know what to say or thought I sounded lame, I would take another sip of my empty drink. I still cringe whenever I hear someone slurping their drink.

It would have been easier to just go get another drink, but I felt like I was doing something in that moment other than saying nothing, noticing my heart rate going up, feeling my palms sweat, or just looking around the room to avoid eye contact.

I wasn’t helping the situation.

As with many awkward conversations, I may have been better off bailing from the situation. Sometimes I actually did because I felt too uncomfortable, or I no longer wanted to subject the other person to my awkwardness.

There had to be a better way.

After all, I knew deep down that people would be interested in me once they got to know me. I just didn’t want the other person to suffer through my awkwardness to get there.

A Simple Technique

I want to share with you a technique you can use to feel less awkward when you don’t know what to say. The best part is that anyone can do it in any situation.

Here’s the idea.

When you start to feel awkward and don’t know what to say, notice something about the environment around you. Specifically, something that the both of you can relate to.

For instance, I might notice something unusual about the drink I am holding or an unusual looking drink someone else has.

Or, I might comment on the lighting in the bar and then relate it to a funny story when the lighting was low and I couldn’t see where I was going.

Another reason why I like this technique is that you can prepare a little bit ahead of time. You can come up with conversation pieces before you actually talk to someone.

You might notice something unusual before you even walk into the bar.

Then, you can already start thinking about stories you can tell to relate to that subject.

One area of caution. I strongly encourage you not to get way too specific about something you notice and take the conversation into Creepyville.

For instance, I wouldn’t notice and measure an small crack in the floor ahead of time. I wouldn’t say “Wow, that crack measures 6 inches and looks small compared to your approximately size 10 Nike shoes.”

In other words, don’t be weird and notice something very detailed about the environment or the other person.

But, when you notice something that is a shared experience, it doesn’t sound like you pulled it out of left field.

So, in this instance, we might not initially talk out about some random fact about low lighting that we learned from watching the Discovery channel.

No, you’d talk about how it’s difficult for you both to see, because the lighting is low in that moment.

After you’ve noticed something about the environment, related it to something personal in your own life, there is one final step – to get the other person talking.

Next, we’re going to ask an open-ended question to show them we’re interested in learning about them.

Let’s look at how this conversation might play out.

You: Wow, the lighting in here is really low, don’t you think?

Them: Yeah, it kind of is.

You. It reminds me of a time when the lights when out and I actually ran into a wall. Yes, I ran into a wall. It was really dark where I lived and had trouble finding the flashlight. I’m probably not alone in this. How did you react to a situation when the lights went out?

The sequence will vary depending on the context and the conversation may be shorter or longer. But, the idea is to talk about a shared experience, relate to that experience, and then get them talking about it.

You also don’t have to make anything up or lie about something. I’ll bet you can relate to a lot more than you realize. Remember, it’s great to do some planning ahead of time and have an arsenal of personal stories you can tell.

Most importantly, the more you practice this technique, the easier it becomes.

So, the next time you are standing there with an empty drink and don’t know what to say, remember to take a deep breath and take your attention from inside of you to the environment around you.

You may notice there is a whole lot more to talk about than you previously thought.

Shawn McKibben

Shawn McKibben is the founder of simplefellow.com, a website teaching ambitious introverts how to tackle social anxiety. You can download his free eBook here.

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