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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.

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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 July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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