How to Avoid the Most Common Awkward Conversation Mistakes

7 years, 9 months ago - September 16, 2013
On the surface, conversation seems easy enough.

You talk, they talk back, right? But then you find yourself in one of those awkward situations where you're just staring at someone you barely know and you have to figure out how to keep the conversation interesting. Here are the most common mistakes we all make, and how to avoid them.

These kinds of mistakes can happen with strangers or with people you've known for years—it isn't limited to small talk. If you're just meeting someone new, we've talked about making small talk better, but these tips should help you get out of any awkward situation.

You Don't Compliment Enough (and Don't Accept Compliments Well)

Assuming you've been on the receiving end of a compliment at some point on your life, you know that when someone makes you feel good, it tends to make you enjoy the conversation a lot more. It's a deceptively simple tactic to improving conversation and one that can be employed in pretty much any social situation.

The basic idea here is to compliment the person you're talking to and make them feel good about themselves. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion author Dr. Robert Cialdini offers two pieces of advice for doing this:

  1. Give Honest Compliments. It may not be easy, especially if the person has been distancing themselves from you for a while. But if you’re objective, they probably have some qualities you admire. If you take a positive action and compliment them, it may well break the ice and make them re-evaluate their perceptions of you.
  2. Ask for Their Advice. Cialdini notes this strategy—which involves asking for their professional advice, book suggestions, etc.—comes from Founding Father Ben Franklin, a master of politics and relationship building. “Now you’ve engaged the rule of commitment and consistency,” says Cialdini, in which they look at their actions (giving you advice or a book) and draw a conclusion from it (they must actually like you), a surprisingly common phenomenon in psychology.

The best part? According to a study published in the Journal of Marketing Research, you don't even have to offer sincere compliments. When most people receive a compliment, even an insincere one, they immediately feel better about themselves and the conversation as a whole. So, break the ice by complimenting a tie, admire a well thought out argument, or praise an idea.

Of course, when someone actually offers you a compliment, it can be hard to accept it without being awkward. In that case, The Art of Manliness has you covered:

The first step in quitting the faux modesty of the compliment deflection routine is to realize that fully accepting compliments does not make you conceited. You didn’t come up with the praise yourself, someone else did! You’re just confirming another person’s assessment, and again, it’s more polite to accept and appreciate their judgment rather than to contradict it.

Second, it’s okay to let yourself feel proud of something you did well. A little pride need not involve an inflated sense of your accomplishments or worthy qualities – just an honest assessment of what you did. It’s quite possible to be modest, while still being grateful and gracious. So what’s the best response to a compliment? Get ready for it…”Thank you.” That’s it. There’s never a situation where a simple, unadorned thank you won’t work.

 

Text by Lifehacker

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