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How to Diffuse Awkward Social Situations in 4 Easy Steps

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Life is full of awkward moments, such as an uncomfortable silence, an elevator fart, or even a faux pas that you had no prior knowledge of until that very moment. But there’s good news: as awkward as some situations can get, they can be easily diffused. Here’s how:

1. Avoid the dead air.
Plan what you want to say in advance. Many studies show that it only takes up to four seconds of awkward silence to make you feel anxious throughout the rest of a conversation.

Once you know what you want or need to communicate, conversations can go more smoothly without the occasional interruption and prevent awkward silences from happening.

2. Crack a few jokes.
If you find yourself in more than ten seconds of unintentional awkward silence, a few lighthearted jokes might be able to break the ice and get the conversation rolling again.

But what if your joke was the reason for the uncomfortable silence in the first place?

The answer is simple – build on it. Once it’s been established that your joke wasn’t that funny, make another one based on that. However, this may take more time, so don’t push it too hard on the first try.

3. Be an active listener.
Active listening is a valuable skill that not enough people have honed, but you don’t have to be one of those people. Start by allowing the person a chance to process what you had just said.

Throughout the conversation, allow yourself to process what the other person is saying and offer clarifications on your points that may have been misunderstood. Unless that person becomes inappropriate, be willing to help that person process his/her emotions.

Be prepared for when the person you are conversing with is experiencing intense emotions, which could range from embarrassment, sadness, to anger.

4. Face the awkwardness head-on…
…because most of the awkwardness is simply inside your head. The good news is that the same could be said about the people in the same situation that you are also in, and once you recognize this, it will be easier to take charge of the situation.

If you accidentally insult someone (whether in person or online), a candid conversation carried in all honesty will be your saving grace. If you care about having that person around, apologize. If you don’t, that’s one less person you never wanted to be around with in the first place.

If ever you do have to end the conversation, you can avoid sounding rude by excusing yourself. Excusing yourself to go be somewhere, do something else, or talk to someone else is a polite way of ending it and serves as a clear signal for you to exit.

(Disclaimer: This list is compiled in no particular order.)

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