Awkward Conversations

One of the most relatable forms of anxiety is when we want an awkward conversation to be over, but cannot make it happen.

Studies on conversation dynamics show that they rarely end when we want them to, lasting up to twice as long. This includes the guy at the gym who does not know that wearing earphones means we don’t want to be disturbed. Even our friends and loved ones sometimes leave us gasping for breath, wanting to run away from the awkwardness.

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About 70 percent of people want an ongoing conversation to end earlier than it does, even with friends and loved ones. Whatever the length, a conversation never ends when we want it to end. We don’t normally be upfront about this and say it on the other person’s face, mainly to be polite and not to offend the other person.

Honesty and politeness are at loggerheads during an awkward conversation, and we are normally more polite towards strangers than we are with our loved ones.

Two factors create a ‘coordination problem’ during an awkward conversation.

  • The first is that we assume we know when the other person wants to leave but we calculate that incorrectly.
  • The second factor is when we know what the other person wants but still cannot end the conversation suddenly by will. We cannot interrupt a story being told to us.

Being completely authentic and radically honest often does not go well with the other person. What’s surprising is that when we really listen to people, giving our total attention, it can come across as awkward to the other person, as it is not considered normal.

The best way to end an awkward conversation is to be pure and honest, telling the other person that you would love to keep talking, but you have to rush to do a particular activity. It is better than saying “It was really nice talking to you and I look forward to doing that again!”

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