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Breeze Through Awkward Moments With Emotional Intelligence

Ila Bonczek
Ila lives in the Garden State with her family and four chickens. She has been growing produce and perennials for 20 years, and recommends gardening for food and fun, but not for fortune.
Published: February 18, 2023
There’s nothing like the feeling of being free to be yourself with others, unrestrained by various social anxieties. Charismatic people are able to help people through awkward moments by employing emotional intelligence, and so can you. (Image: Wyeth, N. C. via Wikimedia Commons)

We’ve all run into awkward moments where there’s an elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about; there is a palpable tension between two people; we’re facing an unfamiliar situation or group; or someone just committed a major faux pas. Whoever can ease others through these awkward moments might almost be considered a minor hero. 

Actually, anyone can rescue awkward social situations with emotional intelligence. Recognizing that others are just as uncomfortable as you are — and knowing how to lighten the mood — is a valuable talent for improving relationships across the board. From family members and co-workers, to strangers and potential spouses or bosses, the ability to make other people feel comfortable will put you pretty high on their likable list. 

Charisma and emotional intelligence

You can probably name any number of charismatic personalities — actors like Audrey Hepburn and Paul Newman, talk show hosts Oprah Winfrey and Conan O’Brien, and spiritual/political leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., perhaps. They, and many others throughout history, have exhibited almost irresistible charm. 

Most influential leaders are able to inspire, motivate, and engage people by being authentic, empathetic, and relatable. While we can’t all be Barack Obamas or Franklin Delano Roosevelts, we can build trust and amiability in our own circles. With a few rules of emotional intelligence as our tools, we can train ourselves to bring out the best in others. 

Painting: Reception to Washington on April 21, 1789, at Trenton on his way to New York to Assume the Duties of the Presidency of the United States N. C. Wyeth at Thomas Edison State University in Trenton, New Jersey. George Washington was one of our more charismatic presidents, earning respect and devotion wherever he spoke. (Image: Zeete via Wikimedia Commons Public domain)

Rules of emotional intelligence

It’s not about you

How fun is a conversation with someone who goes on and on about himself? Perhaps it’s clear this is not the hero of our story. Emotionally intelligent people put the focus on their audience, making their needs, interests and engagement a priority. They are skilled listeners and are able to read others’ body language as well. They take these cues to assess the situation and use their own body language to ease feelings of mistrust and anxiety.  

Eye contact, uncrossed arms, attentive posture, a kind expression, and appropriate touch are all positive forms of body language. Learn to listen carefully to what others have to say, and let them know you’re interested. Look for meaning behind their expression and tone, and engage them by asking relevant questions. 

Everyone likes to be helpful

There’s nothing like asking for advice to help break barriers. Everyone has an area of expertise, and once you find out what it is, you can tap into that well for a wealth of information from just about anyone. Without taking advantage of them, ask for practical advice or recommendations. 

Imagine scenarios where their skills would be useful, and probe for details on how they would tackle different situations. Unless they work for the CIA, they will more than likely be delighted for the chance to talk about their passion. Along with achieving enthusiastic engagement, you’ll end up with some helpful tips to boot!

N. C. Wyeth’s 1937 painting The Alchemist depicts a bearded alchemist and his young assistant facing a glowing furnace to look at a flask of green liquid. Passing on knowledge is a rewarding and engaging activity worth activating. Image: N. C. Wyeth via Wikimedia Commons Public domain)

Present yourself well

Misery loves company, but nobody loves misery. Being warm, kind, authentic and cheerful is a surefire way to ease awkward moments and form lasting bonds. People remember personalities more than anything else, so remember to put your best self forward. 

It’s easy to sense when one is irritable, anxious or bored, so self-awareness and self-discipline are critical here. Wake up with some positive affirmations or a brief meditation to set the tone for the day, and learn to manage your emotions in trying circumstances. Smile.

Being loud and showy may gain you attention, but it won’t necessarily be positive. Modesty and decorum are timeless qualities that you can take anywhere. They represent a solid moral character, which can have a positive effect on any situation.

Laugh at yourself

The best comedians don’t just poke fun at others — they poke fun at themselves. Everyone can relate when you tell a funny story where you are the butt of the joke. One of the top triggers for laughter is when we perceive someone has done something silly, or dumb. We’ve all done silly and dumb things, so why not make good use of these anecdotes to stimulate laughter. 

Laughter not only diffuses tension, it can crack the shell of solemnity to make everyone feel at ease, changing the whole atmosphere from negative to positive. So instead of “saving face,” save the situation by introducing a little self-deprecating humor or other playful levity. As long as it is tasteful, it will be welcome and appreciated by everyone.

Portrait of a Farmer by NC Wyeth, where the pig looks just as jolly as his keeper. You can nearly always rely on levity and laughter to smooth out a prickly situation. (Image: N. C. Wyeth Wikimedia Commons Public domain)

Boost self esteem

How many compliments have you received today, and how did they make you feel? I bet you would take another if it was offered, yes? It’s no secret that sincere and thoughtful compliments and praise make people feel confident and comfortable; while criticism often has the opposite effect. Letting someone know you appreciate the little things they do — or just the way they are — can boost confidence and motivate them to do more in the same vein. 

As you ponder what to say to people, remember the old adage: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Always look for the good in people and point it out when you see it. 

Don’t play favorites

People are naturally wary of strangers, so it is common for everyone to be a little reserved and on guard. To earn respect and trust from anyone, you need to be equally kind to everyone. People who cater to those whom they aim to benefit from and dismiss those they deem “insignificant” are easily recognized as disingenuous. 

You can build trust and make people feel valued by being warm and open, giving them your full attention, and setting aside your own concerns to consider theirs. If warmth doesn’t come from the heart, again, people will sense it. 

Sometimes we need to work on ourselves first to feel empathy and compassion towards others, especially if we tend to be negative and critical. But don’t worry, it’s all part of the ongoing process of a fulfilling life — moving gradually towards our most perfect self!

Alina Wang contributed to this article.