How to Turn an Awkward Conversation Into an Easy Chat

Social dos and dont’s can be useful guides, but high-quality interactions require “contingent responding”

Ashley Pallathra and Edward Brodkin
Forge
Published in
5 min readJun 13, 2021

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Warren Wong via Unsplash

“Five things you shouldn’t say to people who are grieving.” “Do’s and don’ts for first dates.” “Three ways to have ‘the talk’ about where your relationship is going.” We see stories with titles like these all the time. Rules of thumb for social situations can be really helpful. It’s hard to know what to say to a grieving person, and who wants to say the “wrong” thing and hurt them more? Who wouldn’t want that first date you’re excited about to go well? And who couldn’t use tips on how to approach difficult topics with a partner, like where your relationship is going or addressing elephants in the room? But while rules of thumb can help, they’re only a starting point. Take them for what they are — useful, but limited advice — and don’t expect that they can get you all the way to high quality connections.

Social scripts and guidelines help most when you’re unsure of what to do in a certain situation, when it’s new for you, or when it’s just really uncomfortable for whatever reason. Here’s an example from our own lives as mental health providers. When we were first learning to interview patients in mental health clinics, we relied on standardized lists of…

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Ashley Pallathra and Edward Brodkin
Forge
Writer for

Co-authors of the new book “Missing Each Other: How to Cultivate Meaningful Connections.” Twitter: @ashleypallathra @tedbrodkin