How to Make Conversation in an Awkward Situation

Be prepared with three conversation topics to break awkward silences.
... Darrin Klimek/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Situations can be awkward for many reasons -- when talking to strangers, when you've made a social faux pas or when someone else is being rude. Whatever the reason for the awkwardness, you can save the day by having strategies ready to make conversation. Everyone will be thankful that you are steering the group away from disaster.

1 Be Prepared

You can't plan for awkward situations, but you can prepare things to say when those occasions arise, according to communications expert Debra Fine in the article "Tips for Small Talk Success." Always have three topics of conversation ready to go, says Fine. Stay on top of current events, celebrity gossip and local happenings, and you shouldn't be at a loss for words. If you know whom you will be meeting in advance, find out what you can about them, says Susan Krauss Whitebourne in the "Psychology Today" article "10 Tips to Talk About Anything With Anyone," so you can prepare questions to ask.

2 Listen

A good conversationalist listens more than he talks, says Whitbourne. If you find yourself in an awkward situation, sit back for a minute and think about what has already been said. If a conversation has hit a lull, restate what the other person has just said, or ask for an opinion about something that was discussed. Don't assume that others have the same viewpoint as you, and be quick to shift gears if you sense that a topic has made someone uncomfortable.

3 Know When Not to Talk

Sometimes situations are awkward because the other person isn't interested in making conversation, says Whitbourne. Examples include if you are riding on a bus, on an airplane or sitting on a park bench. Although some strangers might be happy to start a conversation, others might prefer to be left alone. If the other person continues to give one word answers, or has closed body language (such as turning away) it might be best to stop trying to talk.

4 Deal With Awkwardness

If a situation is awkward because of what someone has said, use grace and tact to smooth things over, according to author Jill Spiegel in the "Woman's Day" article "How to Navigate Any Awkward Situation." For example, if your cousin insists on telling you that your style of haircut is wrong for your face, gently steer the conversation elsewhere by saying, "Really? That's interesting. You know what else is interesting? Did you heard about the ... " and bring up a new topic.

Arlin Cuncic has been writing about mental health since 2007, specializing in social anxiety disorder and depression topics. She served as the managing editor of the "Journal of Attention Disorders" and has worked in a variety of research settings. Cuncic holds an M.A. in clinical psychology.