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The Tricks You Need When You Bump into Your Acquaintances and You Can’t Escape

The Tricks You Need When You Bump into Your Acquaintances and You Can’t Escape

There are some people who we interact with – maybe a friend of a friend, a neighbour or an old colleague we once worked with – a person who we don’t consider a friend but isn’t a stranger to us either. They belong in the ambiguous part of our social circle where you feel slight distance between you both which can sometimes be embarrassing and slightly awkward.

You find your interactions stay locked in superficiality mode with no common experiences to create a bond and no inside jokes to get past that barrier. There’s that feeling between you that knows you’re only pushed together out of circumstance and chances are you’ll probably never create a long lasting relationship. Sound familiar? This is your typical acquaintance.

The Awkward Moments With Your Acquaintances Are Probably Like This…

We’ve all experienced it – that moment when you realise you’ve built some kind of foundational relationship with someone but you can never quite get it past the next step.

The first few interactions seem to pass the normal social test of polite small talk, an acknowledgement of your similar circumstances and you walk away with a sense of a future friendship.

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But your next interaction starts to wane and get awkward – you struggle to know what to say and you start to feel the weird vibe between you. You don’t want it to be there, but it’s there and the awkward feeling ensues. You question yourself – is it me? Is it them? But what it really is, is a lack of commonality and ability to continue under these circumstances. It could go a little something like this:

You: Hey! Love your Paris t-shirt, I went to Paris and loved it! Have you been?

Them: Oh, yeah thanks! No, I actually haven’t been, this t-shirt was a present but I’d love to go one day.

You: Oh you really should. It’s amazing!

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Them: Great, well…yeah maybe one day I will!

You: Cool….well see you around?

Them: Yeah maybe see you around.

The next interaction you have may start to become awkward because you feel you need to reach for a commonality or ice breaker (in this situation, the t-shirt) again, but it’s this need for constant small talk that keeps us in the cycle of doom when it comes to future meetings with the same person.

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How Can We Overcome These Awkward Situations with Acquaintances?

We all want to be better communicators and avoid awkward interactions as much as possible. And if it means being able to develop a great friendship with someone then even better. So what can we do if we encounter these situations?

Here I will show different levels depending on the length of interaction with your acquaintance.

Level 0: The ‘Quick Hello’ Scenario

When we bump into our acquaintance on the street it can feel pretty awkward. We’ve spotted them and we know they’ve spotted us so there’s no going back. Ignoring or pretending you didn’t see them is a no-no because it can be destructive to the possible development of the relationship. So what do we do?

The best advice in these situations is to keep it as short and sweet as possible. It’s natural to feel like you need to ask questions to glaze over the awkwardness but this can actually create it instead. So don’t enter into a discussion about how they are or where they’re going because this kind of conversation can be hard to maintain in a ‘bumping into’ scenario. Instead, simply make eye contact, smile and say hello.

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Level 1: The ‘Stuck in a Confined Space Together’ Scenario

Say you and the other person enter the same lift. You know it’s a restricted amount of time to have a full blown conversation but you also feel too awkward to stay silent for the short duration. The idea here is to not start a conversation by asking questions but simply dominate the interaction by talking about something in particular. You could start mentioning an interesting app you’ve discovered or a good restaurant you went to round the corner. It doesn’t matter if what you say doesn’t elicit an answer – the beauty of this is to cut out the awkwardness by cutting out the small talk. The other person will probably be thankful for the direction of conversation and takes the pressure off them.

Level 2: The ‘Walking in the Same Direction’ Scenario

You may be walking in the same direction for whatever reason and you realise that the conversation you have will need to be drawn out longer than you may have enough conversation for. When we’re in this mindset, the dreaded awkward silences start popping up.

The secret to these lengths of interactions is to choose your common ground and talk around it. For example, if you both have a mutual friend then create a conversation around them or if you both work at the same place, talk about a recent work issue. These are good types of conversations that can carry on for a few minutes without any awkward silences. Of course, if you’re feeling like you’re going to start running out of conversation soon, then establishing which direction they’re heading in and say you’re heading the other way is a natural and less awkward ending to the interaction.

Level 3: The ‘Realising You’re Going to Have to Spend a Significant Period of Time Together’ Scenario

It may be sharing a ride home or some situation which means small talk and trying to bring up your limited commonalities isn’t going to cut it. It’s time to start thinking about appropriate topics that are easy-going for both of you and where your acquaintance can contribute on an easy level – this could include travelling, food, holidays or restaurants.

The key here is to find a topic where neither one of you can dominate the conversation and the sole purpose being to sniff out clues as to what they may be interested in. You can then use these clues later as elaboration points if the conversation starts to wane. For example, if they mention they’ve lived abroad when talking about future holidays then you can use that as a point to bring up later on and ask them more about it, where it was and what it was like.

Remember that these people who have managed to fall into the acquaintance trap may only stay acquaintances for a little while. Don’t judge the potential of a friendship on the first few (possibly awkward) interactions with them. Sometimes friendships take a bit more tending to and nurturing through discovering further commonalities or shared experiences so always give it a chance.

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Jenny Marchal

A passionate writer who loves sharing about positive psychology.

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

More on the Importance of Taking a Break

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

Reference

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