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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 October 16, 2019

Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

Do you like making mistakes?

I certainly don’t.

Making mistakes is inevitable. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be at ease with them?

Perhaps there is a way to think of them differently and see their benefits.

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Why Mistakes Feel Dangerous

Mistakes often feel dangerous. Throughout human history, our errors have often been treated as dangerous for a variety of reasons:

  • Our vulnerability. We have limited and fragile support systems. When those systems fail, people often lose their lives.
  • Real dangers. Nature can be dangerous, and making mistakes can put us at the mercy of nature and its animal residents seeking a meal.
  • Ignorance. Many cultures scapegoats someone whenever there is a failure of some kind. Scapegoating can be serious and deadly.
  • Order. Many societies punish those who do not conform to the prevailing orthodoxy and treat difference and non-conformity as a mistake. Even our brains flash an error message whenever we go against prevailing social norms.

We have a history of handling mistakes and failure in an unpleasant way. Since each of us carries our human history with us, it can be a challenge to overcome the fear of making mistakes.

If we can embrace the reality of mistakes, we can free ourselves to be more creative in our lives and dig up some interesting insights.

Why We Can’t Avoid Making Mistakes

Many people operate under the notion that making mistakes is an aberration, a mistake if you will. You can call it perfectionism but it is a more substantial problem. It is really a demand for order and continuity.

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When we think we can eliminate mistakes, we are often working from a perspective that sees the world as a fixed place. The world, however, is not so obliging. Like it or not, the world, and everything in it, is constantly changing.

Change is more constant and pervasive than we can see with our own eyes which is why we often miss it. Our bodies are constantly changing. The natural conditions of the earth change constantly as well. Everything, including economic and cultural systems have life cycles. Everything is in a constant state of flux.

We cannot see all of the changes going on around us since rates of change vary. Unfortunately, when we try to create a feeling of certainty and solidity in our lives or operate from the illusion of stability and order, we are fighting reality and our natural evolution which is built on adapting to change.

It is better to continually bend into this reality rather than fight every change we experience. Fighting it can cause us to make more mistakes. Finding the benefits in change can be useful and help us minimize unnecessary mistakes.

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Lessons Learned from Making Mistakes

Life has so many uncertainties and variables that mistakes are inevitable. Fortunately, there are many things you can learn from making mistakes.

Here is a list of ways to harness the mistakes you make for your benefit.

  1. Point us to something we did not know.
  2. Reveal a nuance we missed.
  3. Deepen our knowledge.
  4. Tell us something about our skill levels.
  5. Help us see what matters and what does not.
  6. Inform us more about our values.
  7. Teach us more about others.
  8. Let us recognize changing circumstances.
  9. Show us when someone else has changed.
  10. Keep us connected to what works and what doesn’t work.
  11. Remind us of our humanity.
  12. Spur us to want to better work which helps us all.
  13. Promote compassion for ourselves and others.
  14. Teach us to value forgiveness.
  15. Help us to pace ourselves better.
  16. Invite us to better choices.
  17. Can teach us how to experiment.
  18. Can reveal a new insight.
  19. Can suggest new options we had not considered.
  20. Can serve as a warning.
  21. Show us hidden fault lines in our lives which can lead us to more productive arrangements.
  22. Point out structural problems in our lives.
  23. Prompt us to learn more about ourselves.
  24. Remind us how we are like others.
  25. Make us more humble.
  26. Help us rectify injustices in our lives.
  27. Show us where to create more balance in our lives.
  28. Tell us when the time to move on has occurred.
  29. Reveal where our passion is and where it is not.
  30. Expose our true feelings.
  31. Bring out problems in a relationship.
  32. Can be a red flag for our misjudgments.
  33. Point us in a more creative direction.
  34. Show us when we are not listening.
  35. Wake us up to our authentic selves.
  36. Can create distance with someone else.
  37. Slow us down when we need to.
  38. Can hasten change.
  39. Reveal our blind spots.
  40. Are the invisible made visible.

Reframe Reality to Handle Mistakes More Easily

The secret to handling mistakes is to:

  • Expect them as part of the process of growth and development.
  • Have an experimental mindset.
  • Think in evolutional rather than fixed terms.

When we accept change as the natural structure of the world, our vulnerability and humanness lets us work with the ebb and flow of life.

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When we recognize the inevitability of mistakes as part of the ongoing experiment which life is, then we can relax more. In doing so we may make fewer of them.

It also helps to keep in mind that trial and error is an organic natural way of living. It is how we have evolved over time. It is better to be with our natural evolution than to fight it and make life harder.

When we adopt an evolutional mindset and see ourselves as part of the ongoing human experiment, we can appreciate that all that has been built up over time which includes the many mistakes our ancestors have made over thousands of years. Each one of us today is a part of that human tradition of learning and experimenting,

Mistakes are part of the trial and error, experimental nature of life. The more you adopt the experimental, evolutional frame, the easier it becomes to handle mistakes.

Handling mistakes well can help you relax and enjoy all aspects of life more.

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Featured photo credit: Sarah Kilian via unsplash.com

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