606: Uncomfortable

A Thousand Things to Talk About
606: Uncomfortable

How do you excuse yourself from uncomfortable conversations?

Full episode script

We’ve all had at least one situation where a conversation feels just… uncomfortable. A situation that isn’t fun, feels like things just aren’t quite clicking, or are… to put it simply, awkward. In a May 2012 article in Qualitative Research Psychology, author Joshua Clegg took a look at what makes a situation go above and beyond odd and move into awkward and uncomfortable. And combined with this research came a template for how to respond. Quote:

These analyses revealed a characteristic pattern for socially awkward situations. The moment of awkwardness was characterized by a sense of moral or social transgression that magnified and intensified social experience and focused perceptions on social behaviors. Those social behaviors expressed awkwardness through anxious, hesitant, disjointed, or avoidant actions. Participants felt an imperative to transform the awkward situation and did so either by avoiding it or by directly addressing it and attempting to resolve it. Avoidant responses were associated with a magnification and extension of the effects of social awkwardness while direct responses were associated with a re-established sense of social harmony.


There’s plenty of advice-givers out there that suggest that you get out of uncomfortable conversations using what the researchers would call “avoidant responses” — try and find an excuse to walk away, or move to a different conversational topic.


That said, when you do not address what makes it awkward, there isn’t that much in the way of feedback that helps the individual know what the social cues they’re experiencing means. It doesn’t mean that directly addressing the awkwardness is ever, well, comfortable — but it may be the better choice in the long term. That is, if it doesn’t make the conversation completely untenable.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.