Whether you're tasked with addressing a classmate's lack of personal hygiene (and use of deodorant), or your friend's pet cat just died and you're at a loss for words on how to console her. Awkward conversations are really uncomfortable.
They are also inevitable in life. Sometimes, you need to face them head-on, even when it's uncomfortable to do so. Here are some ways to make an awkward conversation less awkward:
1. Avoid strained silence
Studies show that it takes only four seconds of awkward silence to skyrocket your anxiety levels during a conversation. The higher your anxiety levels, the more tongue-tied you'll be too.
If you're planning to approach someone for a tough talk, plan what you're going to say in advance. Knowing what you need to communicate across can help you deliver your message in a way that will prevent as much awkward silence as possible.
2. Acknowledge your discomfort
Denying your discomfort can sometimes cause you to come across as insincere. If you start realising that you're fidgeting too much and averting eye contact, let the other person know that you are uncomfortable by simply saying, "Sorry, I'm a little uncomfortable bringing this up."
Especially when the setting is a difficult one, such as offering condolences for the death of a loved one, or approaching a school mate to rebuke him/her about not pulling their weight in the group project, acknowledging your anxiety can help.
3. Speak privately
If you know that what you are about to say to the other person may be awkward or result in some intense emotional response. Please do not hold an impromptu conversation in the corridor when you happen to pass by the person.
Instead, suggest to meet in a private setting where no one else can overhear. This can be a room or a quiet corner. And if someone else brings up an awkward subject first in a public setting, you can suggest holding the conversation elsewhere.
4. Be polite, yet direct
This advice is more for when you are about to say some harsh words to someone. Soften harsh words by being thoughtful about how the other person will feel or respond. Instead of saying, "John, the other students say you smell damn bad leh!," soften the blow by saying, "What I'm about to tell you might be a little difficult to hear." This gives the other person a minute to emotionally prepare for what you're about to say.
At the same time, while it's important to be polite, don't soften your words so much that your message gets lost. Going around in circles will only add to the other person's confusion about what's really happening.
After saying your part, don't forget to listen. Give the other person a chance to process what you've said, and be an active listener by offering any clarifications on parts that may have been misunderstood.
Also be prepared for the other person to experience some intense emotions. This can range from from embarrassment, sadness, or anger. Unless the person becomes violent, be ready to help the other person process those emotions for a bit.