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

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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.

More by this author

Jenny Marchal

A passionate writer who loves sharing about positive psychology.

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Published on September 21, 2021

How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

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How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

The internet is flooded with articles about remote work and its benefits or drawbacks. But in reality, the remote work experience is so subjective that it’s impossible to draw general conclusions and issue one-size-fits-all advice about it. However, one thing that’s universal and rock-solid is data. Data-backed findings and research about remote work productivity give us a clear picture of how our workdays have changed and how work from home affects us—because data doesn’t lie.

In this article, we’ll look at three decisive findings from a recent data study and two survey reports concerning remote work productivity and worker well-being.

1. We Take Less Frequent Breaks

Your home can be a peaceful or a distracting place depending on your living and family conditions. While some of us might find it hard to focus amidst the sounds of our everyday life, other people will tell you that the peace and quiet while working from home (WFH) is a major productivity booster. Then there are those who find it hard to take proper breaks at home and switch off at the end of the workday.

But what does data say about remote work productivity? Do we work more or less in a remote setting?

Let’s take a step back to pre-pandemic times (2014, to be exact) when a time tracking application called DeskTime discovered that 10% of most productive people work for 52 minutes and then take a break for 17 minutes.

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Recently, the same time tracking app repeated that study to reveal working and breaking patterns during the pandemic. They found that remote work has caused an increase in time worked, with the most productive people now working for 112 minutes and breaking for 26 minutes.[1]

Now, this may seem rather innocent at first—so what if we work for extended periods of time as long as we also take longer breaks? But let’s take a closer look at this proportion.

While breaks have become only nine minutes longer, work sprints have more than doubled. That’s nearly two hours of work, meaning that the most hard-working people only take three to four breaks per 8-hour workday. This discovery makes us question if working from home (WFH) really is as good a thing for our well-being as we thought it was. In addition, in the WFH format, breaks are no longer a treat but rather a time to squeeze in a chore or help children with schoolwork.

Online meetings are among the main reasons for less frequent breaks. Pre-pandemic meetings meant going to another room, stretching your legs, and giving your eyes a rest from the computer. In a remote setting, all meetings happen on screen, sometimes back-to-back, which could be one of the main factors explaining the longer work hours recorded.

2. We Face a Higher Risk of Burnout

At first, many were optimistic about remote work’s benefits in terms of work-life balance as we save time on commuting and have more time to spend with family—at least in theory. But for many people, this was quickly counterbalanced by a struggle to separate their work and personal lives. Buffer’s 2021 survey for the State of Remote Work report found that the biggest struggle of remote workers is not being able to unplug, with collaboration difficulties and loneliness sharing second place.[2]

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Buffer’s respondents were also asked if they are working more or less since their shift to remote work, and 45 percent admitted to working more. Forty-two percent said they are working the same amount, while 13 percent responded that they are working less.

Longer work hours and fewer quality breaks can dramatically affect our health, as long-term sitting and computer use can cause eye strain, mental fatigue, and other issues. These, in turn, can lead to more severe consequences, such as burnout and heart disease.

Let’s have a closer look at the connection between burnout and remote work.

McKinsey’s report about the Future of work states that 49% of people say they’re feeling some symptoms of burnout.[3] And that may be an understatement since employees experiencing burnout are less likely to respond to survey requests and may have even left the workforce.

From the viewpoint of the employer, remote workers may seem like they are more productive and working longer hours. However, managers must be aware of the risks associated with increased employee anxiety. Otherwise, the productivity gains won’t be long-lasting. It’s no secret that prolonged anxiety can reduce job satisfaction, decrease work performance, and negatively affect interpersonal relationships with colleagues.[4]

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3. Despite everything, We Love Remote Work

An overwhelming majority—97 percent—of Buffer report’s survey respondents say they would like to continue working remotely to some extent. The two main benefits mentioned by the respondents are the ability to have a flexible schedule and the flexibility to work from anywhere.

McKinsey’s report found that more than half of employees would like their workplace to adopt a more flexible hybrid virtual-working model, with some days of work on-premises and some days working remotely. To be more exact, more than half of employees report that they would like at least three work-from-home days a week once the pandemic is over.

Companies will increasingly be forced to find ways to satisfy these workforce demands while implementing policies to minimize the risks associated with overworking and burnout. Smart companies will embrace this new trend and realize that adopting hybrid models can also be a win for them—for example, for accessing talent in different locations and at a lower cost.

Remote Work: Blessing or Plight?

Understandably, workers worldwide are tempted to keep the good work-life aspects that have come out of the pandemic—professional flexibility, fewer commutes, and extra time with family. But with the once strict boundaries between work and life fading, we must remain cautious. We try to squeeze in house chores during breaks. We do online meetings from the kitchen or the same couch we watch TV shows from, and many of us report difficulties switching off after work.

So, how do we keep our private and professional lives from hopelessly blending together?

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The answer is that we try to replicate the physical and virtual boundaries that come naturally in an office setting. This doesn’t only mean having a dedicated workspace but also tracking your work time and stopping when your working hours are finished. In addition, it means working breaks into your schedule because watercooler chats don’t just naturally happen at home.

If necessary, we need to introduce new rituals that resemble a normal office day—for example, going for a walk around the block in the morning to simulate “arriving at work.” Remote work is here to stay. If we want to enjoy the advantages it offers, then we need to learn how to cope with the personal challenges that come with it.

Learn how to stay productive while working remotely with these tips: How to Work From Home: 10 Tips to Stay Productive

Featured photo credit: Jenny Ueberberg via unsplash.com

Reference

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