Life is full of awkward and uncomfortable moments. We can’t avoid them altogether, but we can handle them with grace. Here are ten situations we all might struggle with and how to relieve the discomfort.
10. Forgetting Someone’s Name
It happens to the best of us. You’ve just learned a person’s name five seconds ago (or, worse, met this person several times before) and now you’re drawing a blank. While there are things you can do to remember names next time, you can get around the current emergency in a few ways. If you’re at a professional function and you don’t have it already, you can ask for the person’s business card. You could ask for their name and pretend you just didn’t know their last name. You could introduce the person to your friend (“This is my friend Tina” and Tina will ask the nameless person’s name). Or you can just fess up and say you’ve got a terrible memory, but it’s awesome if the other person has remembered yours.
9. Making Small Talk and Dealing with Awkward Silences
Whether you’re at a party among strangers or there’s a long lull in conversation among people you know, silence can feel deafening. Everyone wants to have more interesting conversations—or at least avoid awkward ones. The key, as you might guess, is to come prepared. Have a plan, shore up some good go-to stories, use the FORD technique to turn small talk into an actual conversation, and, sometimes, just enjoy the silence. These are the most awkward conversation mistakes we all make—and, more important, how to avoid them.
8. Going on a First Date
A blind date takes the stress of talking to strangers (see above) and ramps it up with additional pressure and romantic scrutiny. It’s a good kind of stress, though, at least if your date goes well. To that end, try to pick a great first-date activity, keep your expectations in check, and learn the science behind the perfect first date. (Also, try not to sweat it even if things do get uncomfortable. We’ve all recovered from embarrassing early dating mistakes.)
7. Confronting a Coworker
The most uncomfortable situations often involve our coworkers—those people we interact with on a daily basis and are perhaps borderline friends with. When problems arise, we have to treat them delicately. If you have a problematic—or completely inept—coworker, try having a discrete, polite conversation with the person or kill ’em with kindness. If you have to call out a coworker who is slacking off, consider whether or not she’s really a roadblock for your work before figuring out whether this uncomfortable situation is really your problem.
6. Talking to Your Kids About Sex and Other Sensitive Topics
Having “the talk” about sex with your kids might be the definition of uncomfortable. It might not be possible to have a matter-of-fact discussion about human physiology and relationships without eliciting a “Gross, mom!” response. Birds and Bees and Kids is a site that can help broach the subject with your kids more comfortably. Likewise, when talking about drugs, racial issues, or death, the most important thing is to meet the child where they are first and answer honestly and factually, however uncomfortable the situation might feel. Kids are taking their cues from you.
5. Talking About Taboo Subjects
Speaking of uncomfortable subjects, adults are notoriously uncomfortable talking with each other about all sorts of topics—money, religion, and politics in particular. Most of us avoid these subjects when visiting the in-laws, but sometimes it’s necessary or at least helpful to have these conversations. There’s a lot we can learn from other religions and perspectives on all topics. The key is to stick to the facts and try to find common ground when discussing controversial subjects. Prevent money arguments with your partner or with anyone else by taking the emotion out of it and having a plan in place. Also, don’t feed the trolls.
4. Owning Up to a Mistake
You messed up—big time. The biggest discomfort is in that period when you realize your major error and owning up to it. Once you learn from it or turn those mistakes into steps in improving yourself, the situation isn’t as bad as you might think. It might just make you more human.
3. Surviving Situations That Involve the Human Body
You know what makes people really uncomfortable? The human body. Specifically, things that involve bodily fluids, odors, and touching. We’re very particular about shaking hands perfectly, not passing gas in public, avoiding others’ constant sneezing and germs, peeing correctly in a urinal, and getting rid of bad breath. First let’s get the basic hygiene down.
2. Helping Someone Through Their Illness or Grief
When someone you know or love is in pain, it’s hard to find the right words that might actually be helpful, whether they’re dealing with the loss of a loved one, an illness like depression, or another health issue. The Ring Theory is a good guide for knowing how to comfort someone.
1. Dealing with People Who Make You Uncomfortable
Maybe it’s the family member who always has to have her way, the friend who never lets anyone else get a word in edgewise, or the coworker who overshares personal details, but uncomfortable situations will probably always come up because that’s human nature. Here’s a brief guide to some of the more common types of uncomfortable people and how to deal with them.