Yeah, That Was Awkward: How to Step up Your Interpersonal Skills

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Everyone has likely been in an uncomfortable situation before. There was even a whole social media movement several years ago describing “That awkward moment when…” The reason it was so successful? Everyone can relate to and commiserate over those awkward moments. Some of those moments are created by the situation. For example, coworkers get into a disagreement at an all-staff meeting, someone falls asleep and snores loudly in class, you send a text to the person you were talking bad about instead of to another friend. Those awkward moments are situational. However, plenty of awkward moments are created through conversation. It is a terrible feeling to reflect on an awkward conversation and realize you are the one who made it awkward. Have no fear! There is hope for you yet!

Typically, a couple of common factors lead to uncomfortable dialogue. The first usually involves talking too much or talking too little. Both ends of the spectrum can be uncomfortable if you have someone you can barely hold a conversation with or someone who will not let you get a word in edgewise. The second can be more topical. Uncomfortable interactions can happen with someone who talks only about themselves, goes completely off topic, or speaks inappropriately (such as saying something crude, oversharing, or being too frank).

If you find yourself struggling in social situations, and you find yourself feeling like you made a conversation awkward, there is still hope! Several conversational strategies can help you navigate social settings and step up your interpersonal skills.

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 Understand the situation. Context is critically important in social settings. Are you at work? How you speak to friends over cocktails should sound far different than how you speak to coworkers at a staff meeting. Also, how well do you know the person you are speaking to? A limited relationship with someone creates a higher probability that they will misinterpret what you say because they do not know you well.

 Read the room. Body language and tone can provide you an amazing amount of critical information. If two people are speaking off to the side in hushed tones, it would be awkward to intrude on the conversation. If you are talking to someone and they are crossing their arms or constantly have their head is on a swivel, chances are they want out of the conversation. Pay attention to a person’s body language and tone. It can tell you how they feel about the conversation without you having to ask.

 Use your filter. Think before you speak! This one is pretty simple. When in a social interaction, do not blurt out the first thought that comes to you. Think through it first. If you question its appropriateness, be conservative and do not say it. It might be easy to let your nerves get the best of you and say something quickly to fill the silence. It is better to pause for a few seconds and think before you speak.

 Ask someone for guidance. When in doubt, phone a friend. If you struggle consistently with conversations or doubt your ability to use your filter, ask someone for help. An objective, outside party can be useful as you navigate social interactions and attempt to step up your interpersonal skills.

Michelle Overman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist working as a counselor for students, faculty, and staff at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. She works with athletes, bridging the gap between athletics and mental health at ACU. She is becoming a Certified Mental Performance Consultant in sports psychology.  Michelle ran her own private practice in Austin, Texas where she worked with a diverse population, including couples and families. Michelle earned a Master’s in Marriage & Family Therapy and has been working in the field for 6 years.