What Do You Say When Conversations Get Awkward?

Find the humor in an awkward conversation to lighten the mood.
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Conversations can get awkward for different reasons. Maybe you were chatting with a classmate and ran out of things to say. Perhaps you told a joke that bombed, and everyone is standing around shifting their feet. Whatever the reason for the awkward turn in the conversation, you can save the day with a bit of quick thinking. Even the most uncomfortable silence can be broken with the right words.

1 Find the Humor

Sometimes it is best to simply acknowledge that the situation is awkward. Say something like, "I guess I should have tried that joke out on someone other than my dog," and keep a light-hearted tone. Poke fun at yourself whenever possible, as it helps to make others feel more comfortable. If you are struggling for conversation topics, say "My boyfriend will never believe it. I have run out of things to say." Keeping the mood light helps to break the ice and make it easy for people to start talking again.

2 Awkward Topics

Conversations can get awkward because of the topic. Maybe your mom starting asking questions about your boyfriend, or a classmate started gossiping about your best friend. In these situations, you will need to choose between staying silent, changing the subject or telling the person that you aren't comfortable with the conversation. For example, you might answer your mom's questions but then ask her about her day. If the classmate continues spreading rumors, you could say calmly, "I'm not comfortable talking about my friend behind her back. Could we discuss something else?"

3 Small Talk

Conversations with strangers can become awkward if you run out of things to say. Small talk involves offering comments about the weather, news, sports, movies and other popular topics. Keep on top of current trends so that you will always have another conversation idea on hand, advises author Gretchen Rubin on "Psychology Today" online. You can also fill silence by asking open-ended questions such as, "What do you do for fun on the weekends?" In some situations, such as on a bus or an airplane, silence could simply mean that the other person isn't interested in talking, warns psychology professor Susan Krauss Whitbourne on "Psychology Today" online.

4 Graceful Exit

If the conversation really has ground to a halt, you may need to find a graceful exit. In these cases, have a plan for how you will end the conversation, suggests public speaking coach Lisa B. Marshall, in the article, "How to End a Conversation." Say something like, "It was really great talking with you. Hope to see you again soon." If you are really stuck and can't seem to get away, you might even use an excuse such as needing a trip to the restroom. The goal is to escape the awkward situation without making things more uncomfortable than they already are.

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.