In attempt to relieve our discomfort, we often make matters worse. The world doesn't have to be that complicated. You can survive pretty much any awkward situation with the right mindset.
We've turned ourselves into well-mannered animals, choosing relentless caution and politeness over honesty. When someone puts us in an awkward situation, we tend to tolerate it rather than communicate honestly. No one wants to be brutal or harsh, but somehow the truth fell into that category even though you can be kind and candid at the same time. This is the root of how you solve uncomfortable situations, because they don't exist when you're comfortable with virtually anything. It won't happen overnight, but you can learn how to handle most any kind of awkward human being with a few tricks and a healthy amount of practice.
People Who Don't Know What to Say
Perhaps you learned how to avoid becoming an introverted weirdo, but what do you do when you encounter one? Knowing what to say—and feeling comfortable talking to a stranger—comes with practice. Maybe you were born with the skill, learned it easily, or, like me, used to be very shy and worked hard to change that. Regardless of the circumstances, when somebody's shy the first time you meet them there are a couple of things you can do to help bring them out of it:
Ask a Simple Question That Requires an Opinion
If you're a good talker you already know that treating a first meeting like an interview gets a conversation moving easily and finds common ground. When someone's shy, it helps to go against popular thought and ask them about something that requires an opinion. If you ask how many siblings they have or if they like to travel you might end up with a number or a single word answer. If you ask about, say, a recent news story and what they think about it—or tell them about it if they're not familiar—you can hear their opinion and show that you're not going to judge them for being honest, even if you disagree. This will help them open up. Hear what they have to say, respond where you can, and ask them why they feel a certain way when you don't agree. Opinions are backed by emotion, and when you integrate a little bit of that into a conversation you're more likely to get to a more interest and honest place.
Show Them You're Okay With Their Discomfort
You may not enjoy their discomfort, but if you let them know you're okay with it you can move past it. For example, say "I might be wrong but it seems like you're a little uncomfortable. Did I say something that put you off?" Gretchen Rubin, of the Happiness Project, suggests this variation:
"We're really working hard, aren't we?" or "It's frustrating-I'm sure we have interests in common, but we're having a difficult time finding them."
However you decided to say it, the tactic works for two reasons: 1) You put the awkward situation out in the open so there's no more trying to hide it, and 2) you take the blame for it so they won't need to assume responsibility or can assure you that they're just shy or nervous. From there, you can offer to tell them an embarrassing (presuming it's funny) or share something somewhat private so they can see you're not worried about judgment. When you're done, you can ask them to share, too. When you don't react poorly, they'll trust you and open up a bit more.
Don't Be Boring on Purpose
No single tactic will work on everybody, but ultimately you want them to feel comfortable telling you personal details. Most people will open up if you're honest and demonstrate that you're a safe person to talk to who won't pass judgment (at least as far as anyone can tell). You don't want to try and make them feel comfortable by being overly cautious. If you ask boring questions you're far more likely to receive boring answers. Instead, you want to take reasonable risks and ask about topics that interest you (e.g. a news story, as mentioned earlier) rather than boring small talk. You may not always make a friend with this method, but you won't if you play it safe either. Your goal should be an interesting conversation, because then you walk away from the interaction with something no matter what.
People Who Share Too Much Information
The opposite of the shy talker is the person who knows no boundaries. This man or woman will approach you with reckless abandon and proceed to tell you about intimate life details you don't want to know. Their conversation comes with an air of desperation and, if you stay too long, expect that they will pull out a binder of amateur poetry for your reading pleasure.
Say you're at a party and you encounter little Mr./Ms. Chatterbox. You can escape with a trip to the bathroom, by getting a drink, or by letting the person know you want to go talk to a friend you just saw. While all of these options could be true, they leave open the possibility of resuming an awful conversation later on. Feel free to take the risk the first time around, as you may not run into this person again, but don't fear the honest approach. Have the courage to be direct. If someone's conversation makes you uncomfortable, tell them. By not telling them, you're attempting to make them feel comfortable and you need to ask yourself this: why? Why should you remain uncomfortable just to avoid awkwardness? The situation is already awkward, and telling someone you're uncomfortable isn't cause for anger or further dispute. All you have to say is "I'm really not comfortable talking about this" or "I'd rather talk about something else" so they're fully aware of your boundaries. Relationship and family therapist Roger S. Gil agrees:
Whether it's letting that person know that you're not comfortable talking about a particular subject or giving them rules about when it's appropriate to call you (e.g. "don't call me unless you're bleeding"), you need to let this person know where your limits are. When they cross them, let them know in a respectful manner. Don't let them bully you, but don't be a jerk either.
Nevertheless, no matter how clear you are you won't always escape an awkward conversation—or changing for the better—with a direct and honest response. Sometimes you just need to leave. Instead of saying you simply want to talk to another person, tell the truth. For example, "we've been talking for awhile and I really want to see some other people here." This way you're not pretending to go talk to another friend temporarily, but instead just ending the conversation permanently without the harshness of "I can't stand talking to you anymore!"
Finally, if you're in a one-on-one situation (e.g. a date) you have to make a difficult choice: to stay with this person for the minimum amount of time and then leave, or tell him or her that you're not enjoying yourself and want to go. Both situations lead to more awkwardness, but you really have to decide whether you prefer to rip off the bandage or peel it off slowly. Personally, I think it's better to take a straightforward and honest approach (i.e. rip off the bandage). Telling someone you don't want to spend time with them isn't fun for anyone, but ultimately it provides closure for both of you. If you don't want to see this person again, you'll have to tell them eventually (or take the timid approach of ignoring their communication until the end of time).
Be a Mirror
Spending time with an oversharer will make you want to pull your hair out if you're constantly thinking about the situation you're in. When you can't get out and you can't be honest, be a mirror. Start oversharing yourself. If they're comfortable with providing too much information, you're not taking much of a risk by sharing too much yourself. Have fun telling them things nobody else wants to hear about. You might actually enjoy it, seeing as few others on the planet would want to hear about the last time you got the flu or see 500 cute dog photos on your phone. Don't let the oversharer dominate the conversation. Participate, and assert your right to talk as well. At the very least, it'll make the time go by a lot faster.
People Who Inspire Uncomfortable Conversations
We're all capable of causing each other grief in ways we don't realize, and those situations lead to uncomfortable conversations. Perhaps your neighbors play loud music or have loud sex, your roommate promises to do his or her chores but never follows through, or your parents or friends won't stay out of your personal business. It's awkward to sit someone down and tell them they're causing you trouble, especially when you're dealing with a sensitive topics.
Don't Assume Anything
We all know what assumptions can do, so don't assume anything when approaching a sensitive, uncomfortable conversation. For example, if you're woken up every morning by loud sex through the walls of your apartment you shouldn't assume your neighbors are aware of the problem. You also shouldn't assume they'll agree that what they're doing is a problem, as the act is not, in most cases, enough to be considered a public disturbance. The same goes for things like yard work and loud music: at certain times of day, you don't necessarily have a right to complain. Before you act, ensure you know if the law applies to your situation and, if you live in an apartment, if the terms of your lease set specific quiet hours. Often times there are laws in your city and terms in your lease that dictate what's allowed and what isn't. You can still complain if something bothers you, of course, but you shouldn't assume your neighbors are breaking the rules or have any idea they're being loud.
This gets difficult in the moment because you're angry and that anger isn't a means to a productive solution. Roger explains how best to approach a conflict:
When teaching couples how to fight fairly, therapists will validate the clients' anger if it's an appropriate emotional response to something. The therapist will then tell the clients to avoid responding to their mates' target behavior while experiencing an intense emotion. The same is true for confronting someone.While it's tempting to tell someone off, doing so will likely get them to focus on the fact you're telling them off and not on what you're actually saying. I often tell clients to wait until their emotions die down (usually between 20-30 minutes) before attempting to confront the offending party.
In the case of a first infraction, regardless of what it may be, give yourself some time to cool off. If you can't avoid assumptions and approach the situation with a level head, you'll only make matters worse.
Prepare a Simple Request
The same goes for lazy roommates, overbearing parents, chronically late friends, smelly coworkers, and pretty much anyone else who makes you uncomfortable for any reason. Often times they don't know they're causing a problem even when it may seem completely obvious to you (and, perhaps, the rest of the world). Additionally, they may just not know what to do about it and think their behavior is, at the very least, tolerable because nobody's informed them otherwise. As a result, you need to approach the situation with one simple point: their behavior makes you uncomfortable. You do not want to argue that they should know better, or that they're wrong in the eyes of society. You simple need to tell them this:
You may not be aware, but your behavior is making me uncomfortable. You're entitled to your own personal choices, but perhaps we can come up with a compromise that suits us both.
This is a very formal and vague example that you wouldn't want to use verbatim, but it provides the basic idea. When broaching an uncomfortable topic with anyone, you simply tell them the issue and that you want to figure out a mutually amicable solution to the problem. Loud noises of any kind can be rescheduled to other times of the day. Perhaps you work late and don't wake up until 10:00 AM. You could simply ask your neighbors to forego their sexual activity/lawn mowing/death metal band practice until you've gotten your full night's rest. We're all different and have our own quirks that can both annoy and delight others. Even if someone's behavior seems unreasonable, it often has more to do with how and when. Plus, if you approach the situation kindly you're more likely to get what you want.
Be Relentless When Nothing Changes
Ideally you want to resolve awkward situations as quickly as possible without creating too much conflict. Nevertheless, you don't always get what you want. Some people are just giant turds who don't care how you feel. These people require a little more persistence.
In the event of a noise-related complaint, they're continuing to bother you because it's more inconvenient for them to stop. You need to change that reality and make it the less convenient option. If they're causing a public disturbance (according to the law and/or the terms of your apartment lease) you should call the police and/or your landlord every single time it happens. Maintaining a low level of noise needs to become a more desirable option for the infringing party. You make that happen by forcing them to deal with authorities every time they break the rules.
The same principle works for other situations as well: simply make the problem more inconvenient for the person causing it and they'll choose a more desirable behavior. How you do that will vary from situation to situation, but with a little forethought it shouldn't be much trouble to figure out.
Above All Else, Maintain Self-Confidence
Situations become awkward when you decide they're awkward. It may not seem like it, but to some extent you choose to feel uncomfortable when you don't know how to handle a situation. It's okay to laugh and enjoy it, make fun of yourself, and move on. What people say and do doesn't change who you are. If you like yourself, there isn't any need to feel bad about being honest with people. Feeling awkward generally comes from a place of fear even though there's really nothing to be afraid of. Remember that, maintain a healthy amount of self-confidence, and you should have no trouble braving the strange world we live in.