9 Magic Phrases That Can Save Awkward Conversations

A compliment, a question, and a game can get anyone to like you. Memorize them.

Pay a compliment

Kelsey McArdle/

Why is it so easy to forget someone’s name within seconds of meeting them? Because, you weren’t really listening—you were too busy thinking about what to say next. One easy way to skirt that natural selfishness and propel awkward conversations forward is to open with flattery. When you meet someone for the first time, “Pay that person a compliment when repeating their name, thus helping to anchor and embed it even deeper into your memory,” says professional mentalist Oz Pearlman, who sometimes has to remember the names of hundreds of people he just met for his act. If you compliment Alyssa on her necklace, you instantly prime your brain to recall her name the next time you see that necklace, Pearlman says. “As a bonus, everyone enjoys flattery, so that compliment can go a long way toward you being remembered as well.” Check out these other 15 ways to avoid a severely awkward situation.

Ask lots of questions—good questions

Kelsey McArdle/

Research shows that in conversations with unfamiliar people, we tend to rate the experience based on our own performance, not theirs. What’s more: the experience of talking about ourselves can be more pleasurable than food or money. So, how do you give your conversation partner the pleasure of a good conversation? Ask them questions—a lot of questions, and ones that call for more than vague one-word answers (a good rule is, if your question can be answered with “fine,” don’t ask it). Avoid work if you can; instead, ask about play—”What keeps you busy outside of work?” is a good place to start. According to Debra Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk, one question pretty much guaranteed to put someone in a positive mindset and open doors to their personality: “What has the highlight of your year been so far?” This allows the person to show you her best self and, if her highlight includes a topic you’re interested in too, may lay the groundwork for a true friendship. Use these other tricks to stop awkward silence on a first date.

Make a game out of small talk

Kelsey McArdle/

If you keep feeding a person questions and they keep giving you nothing back, go for the jugular and make it a game. According to Jeanne Martinet, author of  The Art of Mingling, small talk should be playful like a game of tennis, not serious like a job interview. Her go-to game? “I’ll say something like, ‘Tell me three things about your company, and I’ll guess what company it is.’ Or, ‘What’s that you’re drinking? Wait—let me guess.’ Get them into the spirit.” Start awkward conversations on the right note with these 37 conversation starters that make you instantly more interesting.

Try to make their day better

Kelsey McArdle/

If your conversation partner still isn’t biting, make things even easier for them by asking games researcher Jane McGonigal’s favorite question: “On a scale of one to ten, how was your day?” Anyone can think of a number between one and ten, McGonigal says, and they’re likely to elaborate on their answer as they go. But it gets even better. After they respond, ask them this: “Is there anything I can do to move you from a six to a seven (or a three to a four, etc.)?” You’d be surprised how happy this little gesture will make someone. Try these other things good listeners do in daily conversations.

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Relationships – Reader's Digest