So you’ve just done something cringe-worthy—oops! Whether you went in for a hug only to be met with a handshake, crossed a boundary of formality during a dinner conversation, or simply took a fall in front of a crowded room, you’re probably wondering what to do next. Avoid the awkwardness or confront it? According to research, you’ll want to do a bit of both.
In one study, Joshua W. Clegg, an associate professor of psychology at John Jay College, found that the first thing you should do is acknowledge the situation. “Avoidant responses were associated with a magnification and extension of the effects of social awkwardness,” he wrote, “while direct responses were associated with a re-established sense of social harmony.”
He noted this is often best done through humor—saying something as simple as, “Awkward!” can put you, and any bystanders, at ease.
[pullquote] Reminding others of your faux pas will only draw the moment out, and can make things more uncomfortable. [/pullquote]
Facing the situation head on also helps you realize how much of a non-event most awkward moments are. Withdrawing, on the other hand, “can actually make that anxiety and that sense of awkwardness worse because you’re not getting to find out that you can recover,” Bethany Teachman, a professor in the University of Virginia’s Department of Psychology, told US News & World Report.
Now that you’ve faced the situation—maybe even laughed it off—let it go. Reminding others of your faux pas will only draw the moment out, and can make things more uncomfortable.
Still feeling uneasy? Remember that embarrassment is normal. “It is the price we pay for being messy, imperfect, normal humans,” Susan David, PhD, a Harvard Medical School psychologist, told Fast Company. “A key part of moving on from embarrassment is to practice self-compassion and self-forgiveness. When you recognize that you are human and imperfect, just like all other humans are imperfect, it gives us permission to let go of the past embarrassment with the knowledge that we did our best.”