Mastering awkward conversations is a large part of this Pandemic Curriculum. Situations that used to be assumed, such as school, or going to the beach, now require people to be honest, vulnerable, and respond with empathy.
Mastering Awkward Conversations
My friend came over yesterday. I told her she had to stay outside because she had just been on a plane. That was my rule for yesterday.
I’m telling the people I love to stay outside, canceling long-planned trips with relatives, and changing my mind about social activities I know my kids need.
Welcome to Summer 2020. The season we master the awkward conversation.
Awkward Conversations Skills Learned from COVID
Sometimes I play a game where I count up the gifts of COVID-19. It’s a tricky game at first. But start small and you’ll be surprised all that you can list:
Hamilton streaming. My favorite coffee shop delivering. No longer having to pay a quarter for a cart when I go to Aldi… Chick-Fil A finally getting recognition for crushing it at everything.
But another gift of the coronavirus has been learning the art of the awkward conversation. We can ask awkward questions while doing that awkward body language when we pause for 3 seconds when we used to hug.
From Avoidance to Awkward: New Conversations
I used to avoid most hard moments, choosing to deal with discomfort passively. Perhaps I even appeared to agree with positions I didn’t really agree with in order to avoid a scene… Perhaps.
Not in 2020. Nope.
“Where are you with, umm, going places?” we ask each other. Or, “Will you send your kids to school or do virtual?” or “What news do you believe?”
These are the questions we are asking, 10-12 feet apart in the pool, across our streets, and over the phone.
And it’s not small talk. Often these difficult conversations are layered with anxiety – anxiety over the pandemic plus social anxiety. Social situations themselves are challenging because the whole time we are wondering, “Should we even be here, doing this?”
Three Tips for Awkward Conversations
Awkwardness abounds in this season. Mask-wearing combined with distance-standing, mixed in with the lost ability to get dressed can leave us little confidence in our social skills.
Here are Three Tips for Mastering Awkward Conversations.
1. Prioritize the Relationship in Awkward Conversations
Psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud talks a lot about difficult conversations in his Boundaries series. He says this, “When starting a difficult conversation, affirm the relationship and outcome: I care about you and our relationship and want this to bring us closer.”
Consider how having awkward conversations can actually strengthen your relationships! When I talk about my fears regarding COVID-19 or my concerns about school in the fall, I’m being vulnerable. This builds closer relationships. Well, it builds closer relationships as long as I follow step 2…
2. Be Personal, Not Political.
Claim your position on outings, school, and play dates as your position, not the position.
How many versions of this have we all said lately? “I’m not quite comfortable with that yet. We aren’t going inside buildings. My family is avoiding close mingling in small, dark Covid-filled spaces right now.” You get it.
Remember to focus on being descriptive of what your family’s process is, not prescriptive for anyone else.
Also, be gracious with yourself, and keep it light. With my friends, I usually emphasize my ever-changing feelings: Today wearing this poncho and two face shields in my front yard makes sense. But next time?
3. In Awkward Conversations, Listen. Don’t Wait to Talk.
Real listening requires engaging the other person with the assumption that you are going to learn something new, something that could change you.
Who wants to do that?
Especially when we could be trolling for evidence to support our already established opinion. But it’s that dynamic that increases awkwardness.
While your friend is talking, listen. Think of it as a field trip out of your own headspace. Be the kind of good listener that makes your friend feel brilliant, understood, or at the least, not alone.
Listening as Hospitality
Author Henri Nouwen wrote, “Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even dare to be silent with you.”
Attention Frustrated Party-Throwers! This is your chance to be hospitable without being a viral super-spreader. Listen to each other. Create room for another person to be heard. Reframe awkward silence as healing space.
Strengthening Our Awkward Muscles
I often talk to my kids in terms of our “muscles.” We need to work on our “flexibility muscle,” or our “doing what we hate doing muscle.” During quarantine, we realized that our “getting-into-the-car-together muscle” had all but atrophied.
The good news is that right now we have a big chance to strengthen our Awkward Conversation Muscle. This muscle has been there, but now it’s getting rigorous daily workouts.
These moments are opportunities to care for our friends and grow our own discomfort muscles.
Remember, awkward, difficult conversations are a sign that valuable stuff is involved – our relationships, our fears, our hopes. In a season of canceled everything, that stuff is still here, and it matters. We can learn new ways to take care of each other, awkward and all.