One of my primary rules for social interactions is this: If in doubt, get really honest.
This works amazingly well for handling awkward or uncertain situations. Not all the time, of course, but my success rate has been high enough that it’s become my default strategy for handling tricky social situations.
I’ll throw out a few examples below. Some are autobiographical, others hypothetical. All work better with strong body language, a steady tone, and an easy smile.
1) You meet a person for the fifth time and yet again you’ve forgotten their name. So you tell them: “You know what, I feel like such an ass, but I’m drawing a blank on your name again. What was it?”
2) You see an attractive stranger sitting in the coffee shop. You walk over and say, “Hey, this might sound a little strange, but I just saw how cute you are and had to come say hi.”
3) Alternative to the above: “Excuse me. I’m really nervous to come talk to you because I think you’re very cute. Could you do me a favor and chat with me for just two minutes so I don’t feel like such a fool?”
4) You’re introduced to someone important and offer up a weak handshake. You immediately recognize your mistake and say, “I’m sorry, that might have been the worst handshake I’ve ever given anyone. Let’s try that again.”
5) You’re not sure whether you should hug a certain person goodbye, thinking it may make them uncomfortable. So you say, “I hope you don’t mind, but I have this overwhelming urge to hug you.”
6) First date with your dream girl, and you’d very much like to kiss her goodnight. Instead of trying to act all calm and smooth, you take her hand in yours and say, “I’m going to hate myself later if I don’t at least try to kiss you right now.”
7) You’ve been going to the same coffee shop for months and realize that you’ve never properly introduced yourself to the barrista and exchanged names. So you walk in one day and say, “You know what, I’ve been coming here for months now and I still don’t know your name.”
8) You live in a small town and desperately want to improve your social skills. Problem is, you’ve always been known as the shy kid, and you worry about what other people will think of you if you suddenly start intiating conversations with everyone and their grandmother. So you try this: “Hey John, can you do me a favor? I’m trying to improve my social skills and become a little less shy. Would you mind if I just chat to you whenever I see you, stop and say a few words? It would help me out a lot.”
9) You’ve started talking with an attractive stranger and after a few minutes the conversation dies. You say, “Damn it, you’re just so cute that my mind’s gone blank and I can’t think of anything else to say.”
10) You’re chatting with someone when you make a joke that they don’t find funny. Rather than ignore the awkwardness and hurry the conversation along to something else, you say, “Wait, that was awkward. Was my joke really that bad?”
11) You ask someone attractive for their number and they politely decline. In response, you say, “Hey, no worries. I just had to ask or I would have always wondered what if.”
12) You find yourself at a crowded party or bar where you don’t know anyone. You walk up to a group (not an individual) you’d like to meet and say, “Hey everyone. I hope you don’t mind, but I don’t know anyone else here and you look like the coolest people in the room, so I wanted to come introduce myself.”
13) You’ve just started flirting with an attractive stranger when you discover that her boyfriend is standing three feet away. You drop the flirting and address him directly: “Sorry man, I didn’t know she had a boyfriend. You really gotta teach me how to get a girl like this. What’s your secret?”
The point I’m trying to get across here isn’t that you should have practiced and memorized responses to diffuse every conceivable awkward moment. My point is that honesty will usually do the trick.
It’s counterintuitive, I know. Our first instinct is usually to try pretend the awkward moment never happened and hope that nobody else noticed it. But rest assured that if you noticed it, everyone around you probably did, too. And so the best response is to tackle that elephant head on, drag him into the middle of the room and draw even more attention to his fat ass.
Do that, and the awkwardness dissipates.
But just in case it doesn’t…
During a desert safari outside of Dubai last March, I got chatting to a bunch of Western women. I was getting along very well with one in particular.
And then I brought up the subject of slug sex.
Now, if you’ve clicked that link and watched the video, you’ll likely agree that the sight of two slugs mating is surprisingly beautiful. It’s one of my go-to conversation pieces whenever I end up chatting with someone about animals. I become fairly animated and enthusiastic as I try to get across just how amazing slug sex actually is, and urge whoever I’m talking with to google it sometime. Usually the other person resolves that I’m equal parts crazy-funny-interesting, and the conversation moves happily along to other things.
But when I launched into the subject of slug sex with this girl in the desert, she became visibly uncomfortable. Feeling the awkwardness, I stopped short of describing the intertwining head penises and said to her, “Oh, I’m sorry, is this making you uncomfortable? We can always talk about something else you know.”
I changed the subject and continued on chatting with her, but I couldn’t shake that air of awkwardness. Twenty or so minutes later she turned and said to me, “You know that thing you were talking about earlier with the slugs? Yeah, you shouldn’t go around saying that to girls you’ve just met. It’s weird.”
That’s when I decided I didn’t want to know the girl any better. After all, an appreciation of slug sex is only the tip of my weird iceberg. If she couldn’t handle that, there wasn’t much hope for us.
So I ended up spending the rest of that safari hanging out with a bunch of Chinese people who didn’t speak English but proved much better company.
But here’s why I’m telling you this: Awkwardness isn’t always something you can or even should resolve. Sometimes it’s just a sign that you need to move on.
Take the second and third examples listed up top, where you approach an attractive stranger in a coffee shop and lay your cards on the table. Could still happen that you get a cold response. When I find myself in that situation, I’ll usually persist a little bit to make sure it’s not just an automatic rejection (for all I know, I could be the third guy who’s tried to hit on her since she sat down). But say the interaction doesn’t improve any and the awkwardness remains. Then I’ll just move on, typically ending the conversation with something like this: “Hey, no worries. I didn’t mean any disrespect. Have a good day.”
Here’s an idea
Via the comments, tell me about some awkward moments you’ve experienced, and together we’ll figure out how a hefty dose of honesty might have helped the situation.