awkward woman

How to Deal With Awkward Conversations

The Nystrom & Associates provider consulted for this article is Dr. Karin Ryan, PsyD, LP, Clinic Director, and Outpatient Therapist.     We will inevitably have awkward conversations with friends and family during the holidays and throughout our lives. Unfortunately, we cannot avoid them. However, we can learn tips for coping with those awkward conversations. Here are some practical suggestions for how to deal with awkward conversations from Dr. Karin Ryan, a licensed psychologist at Nystrom & Associates.  

Coping With Awkward Conversations 

Plan Ahead 

Think about who will be at the event or social gathering you attend. Think about who the people are that you are going to connect easily with and who could be more challenging. “Have realistic expectations. Sit by those you enjoy connecting with,” says Dr. Karin Ryan. “Think about what you are willing to share and how you might respond to common questions.” For instance, common questions typically relate to what’s new in your life, traveling, hobbies, etc.   In addition, think about what questions you feel comfortable asking others. Job, travel, friends, TV Series, books? Make a mental note of those questions, or even write some down on your phone for quick reference.   Related:  3 Writing Practices for Your Mental Health

Initiate Conversations or Activities 

If you initiate conversations you enjoy, you can take power back to steer conversations where you want them. This can help to decrease social anxiety and reduce awkward conversations. You can ask those prepared questions, ask for their opinion on a particular topic, or initiate an activity if it’s an extended social gathering. For instance, games like cards, cribbage, Pictionary, etc.  Related: Breathing Exercises for Anxiety & Stress

Dealing With Awkward Questions or Topics 

For confrontational, critical, or intense questions you receive, you can give avoidant political answers or assertive responses and then change the topic. Here are several examples of responses suggested by Dr. Karin Ryan: 
  • "Yeah, maybe." 
  • "That is important to think about."
  • "I'm not sure." 
  • "That is a good question."
  • "I do not want to talk about that. Let's change the topic, please. Have you been watching the World Cup?"

Nystrom & Associates on Twin Cities Live 

Watch Dr. Karin Ryan on Twin Cities Live as she discusses practical tips for dealing with awkward conversations.  

Listen to Your Body & Manage Your Stress 

Check-in on any muscle tension and your breathing to help manage stress. If you can, sit back and relax. Give yourself permission to take breaks. Use the restroom, help with the dishes, pick up, walk, or play with the kids.   Related: How to Manage Stress So It Doesn't Lead to a Breakdown

Set Clear Boundaries 

Remember, you can always set clear boundaries if you are uncomfortable with where a particular conversation is going. Boundaries can look different depending on the situation.
  • You can say, "I would rather not talk about that today."
  • You can walk away.
  • You can be gentle and kind: "Nice to connect with you." Or "I am going to get something to drink." 
  • You can also be firmer and more direct: "I am done with this conversation."   
  • If others around you are getting more hostile or argumentative, you can leave the area.  

A Word From Nystrom & Associates 

Awkward conversations don’t necessarily mean bad conversations, but they do happen. With the tips listed above, you’ll be prepared to deal with them easily and enjoy those social gatherings.   If you’re experiencing social anxiety impacting your daily life, please don’t wait to get support. Nystrom & Associates can help you manage anxiety and strengthen the relationships in your life. Talk with us at 1-844-NYSTROM or request an appointment online at any of our convenient locations. 

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