Building blocks of a successful awkward conversation

Chase Smith 27 April 2015

The encounter

You’re wandering through college, absentmindedly admiring the local shrubbery on your way to somewhere else. Sandwich clutched in hand, you see no one is coming, so you take a clandestine chomp. Mouth full of food, the shrubbery looking conclusively lovely indeed, not a single person to be seen – a perfect situation, No? And you run smack into your Director of Studies.

The ‘oh hi’

Mortified, you mumble a greeting that bears more than a passing resemblance to an aardvark failing to inhale a handful of ants. Eyes widening, you realize she has a guest and is about to introduce you. So you hold up your hand to stall, attempting to chew as discreetly as possible while the two professors watch, their expressions revealing nothing. It’s like a spectator sport where you’re losing against yourself.

Attempted recovery

So you got off to a bad start – you can still rebound (note the sports pun). You wipe the crumbs from your face and hold out your other hand with a poised demeanour, only to remember that you’re still clutching the remnants of your lunch. So you pretend like you were just stretching. No big deal – this is a handy trick to master.

Attempted recovery part two

You are finally introduced, and now the conversation actually has words. You promise you’re not always this awkward, and then proceed to laugh a tad too desperately, instantly disproving the point. You can’t tell if they are amused so you try to shift the conversation to more academic matters. Henry VIII – wow that guy – the English Reformation was important, wasn’t it?

A grave and lengthy silence

This is the very foundation of awkward conversation technique.  Sentences are flowing, grammar is functioning, and then, inexplicably, the pace slackens. You all know it’s happening, which only makes it worse. What more is there to say? You think frantically – the sky is blue? The night is dark? Oh – the weather!

The weather

This is classic building block number two. In an effort to keep the conversation moving, you gesture to the heavens, commenting on the beauty of that… cloud.

Feigned surprise

With England’s weather falling into two categories – overcast or more overcast, you approach the dreaded lull once more. Desperate, you feign enthusiasm in a nearby object – a tulip or a duck, whichever is available.

The final step

Or rather, misstep. A minor stumble (onto fine–grained gravel or soft grass if convenient) suffices to end the conversation, which is helpful as your social kit doesn’t seem to include goodbye–ing. You wander away, back to appreciating the shrubbery.