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.
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!
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.
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.
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.