How to Have Less Awkward Conversations According to Science

23.05.17

Are you an awkward person?

When someone says “Hi!” do you say “Fine thanks!” ?

When they say “How are you?” do you say “You too!” ?

Do you go in for the hug when they go in for a handshake? At best, resulting in a punch in the stomach, and at worst resulting in an alarming boob graze from the CEO of the law firm you’ve only been working at for two weeks and six days?

Sure, it’s a little comical but it’s mostly just cringeworthy, and you often wish you could go back in time and either cross the road or walk in front of a stream of traffic in order to avoid that painful interaction all together.

I was reading an article yesterday about the best way to avoid having an awkward conversation, based on how the human brain operates. Apparently the answer is simple: we must assume rapport.

In other words, you simply pretend that you are meeting up with one of your best friends. Whether you are meeting a colleague, a potential employer or going on a first date, the idea is that you decide in your mind that you are meeting up with your BFF and you then start the interaction in that frame of mind rather than the nervous one.

It makes a lot of sense: when you’re hanging out with girlfriends you’re not thinking about what to say next, how you’re coming across or what kind of impression you need to make. You’re not trying to think of a funny story to tell or a witty remark, and you’re sure as hell not trying to sound intelligent. You simply stay in the present moment, enjoy the company, and the conversation flows easily and naturally.

It sounds almost too simple to work but our brain is very reactive to this sort of behaviour. In most of our social interactions, we find it difficult to feel comfortable among strangers because our brain tries to “protect us from exposure” by telling us to talk less, avoid eye contact and keep our limbs close to our body whether through crossing our arms or turning our hands into fists. Hence why assuming comfort, or assuming rapport, is so powerful because you are commanding your brain to think that you already know the person you are about to meet, ultimately giving you an advantage and improving the chances of having a positive experience.

So try it next time and see how you feel!

Walk into your next job interview and be all:

“OMG GRANT!!!! You will die when I tell you this story, you will literally d-i-e. But first could you get me a coffee, two pain killers and a bagel? I’m hungover AF.”