How to Help People Out of Awkward Social Situations: A Guide

We’ve all been in awkward social situations.

Wouldn’t it have been nice in those situations to have someone to help us and support us?

This article explains how to do just that: helping friends out of awkward social situations (and save people’s face).

Rescuing People From Awkward Social Situations

These are some of the most common socially awkward situations and how you fix them:

#1. Let Them In

When They’re Standing Outside, You Open The Door

Standing at the edge of a group is a typical awkward social situation for many.

The longer someone stays in the periphery of the group, the stronger the message they are not welcome is broadcasted. And you don’t want that to happen to your friends.

What you then do is this:

  1. Take a step back
  2. Put your arm on your friend’s back inviting him to step in
  3. Step back in together with your friend
  4. Introduce him or mention him in what you say next

Being ostracized and left outside in the cold is a great fear of human beings. Rest assured that people will remember and cherish those very few who notice and open the social doors for them.

standing outside a group: awkward social situation

#2. When Ignored, Show Interest

It happens relatively often that someone is telling a story, but the people around start ignoring him.

What to do then?

Here’s an example:

helping friends in socially awkward situations
I got a question

A few weeks ago a friend of mine, let’s call him Terry, was telling a story to a group of 4 guys, all knowing each other, and 2 new girls.

Terry was looking at the two girls as he spoke, but they suddenly turned to each other and started talking to themselves.

Now the story might not have been the most captivating ever, but that was very socially oblivious and rather rude of them.
Terry looked shunned and was losing big social points.

The quickest and easiest way to rescue anyone in Terry’s situation then, is to jump in and make a wrap-up question (read below why wrap up).
This will allow Terry to finish his story, show everyone that he’s not isolated and comfort him that there people who care.

It looks like this:

Friend: I tried La Casa pizza parlor last week, and it was superb. (nobody listens, tries with a question) Have you guys ever tried La Casa
Group: (Looking away, starting side conversation)
You: Oh cool man, I’ve heard about that place a few times, how was it

Also read:

#3. Hurtle Away From Awkward Situations

The Shorter The Time, The Less The Embarrassment 

A very common way of helping your friends out of awkward situations is to move away from them as quickly as possible.

You can pretend it never happened, change the topic or keep going.

Leil Lowndes calls it “see no bloopers, hear no bloopers”.
It’s a very easy and simple method that doesn’t require much effort, so in the very worst case scenario, you can always come back to it.

It works well… A lot of times.

Exception: When The Blooper is Too Obvious

But you cannot use it when the offenseor blooper was too obvious to ignore.

You can see an example here:

https://youtu.be/zDMyVSsobYg?t=40

What do you think about this example?

I guess you probably noticed the intrinsic weakness of this technique.

The issue with it is that it lessens the consequences, but it does not address the core issue and doesn’t really fool anyone.
Everyone knows what happened.

#4. Put Your Social Weight On Their Side

And Openly Take Your Friend’s Side

Most people who put our friends in awkward situations do so with opinions or with out of place questions.

Imagine they take one side of the scale.
But if you can put your own judgment on the other side of the scale and you have more weight, you win.

Let’s review the same Sex & The City example:

Antony: Mother of God, what’s with the gut. Well she’s eating something out there
You: Not true at all. I’m just bummed she’s my friend. I hate having hot friends and not being able to make a move, or I’d be all over that (smile) 
Welcome in baby! (Open arms for a warm welcome)

This works particularly well if your opinion is highly regarded in the topic and the attacker’s opinion not so much.

In this case, for example, it works great if you’re a guy with a good taste, or rumored to sleep around.
Then your opinion on the topic matters. And his opinion as a guy naturally not interested in women matters much less.

using your social weight

#5. Undermine Their Attacker

No Social Weight, No Harm Done

Opinions and questions that put our friends on the spot often look powerful because, the moment we set ourselves as judges, we become judges, and acquire huge social power.

If you, on the other hand, can highlight that it was simply an opinion -and a silly one at that-, you take away power from the judge.
And you relieve the social pressure.

You do so by questioning the attacker on their motives, or undermining their authority.

A great way to do is using humor, so that people will laugh.
A humorous moment also decreases tensions and helps to move on more quickly.
And, of course, you won’t look butthurt.

Antony: Mother of God, what’s with the gut. Well she’s eating something out there
You: (rolls eyes, speaking as if you don’t wanna be heard, but loud enough that everyone hears) says the guy highly experienced in women. We’ll ask him when we need an opinion on di**s. In the meanwhile, come on in Samantha, you look spectacular (hugs her and welcomes her in)

Notice also this is the same technique Jesus Christ used to save an adulterous woman from being stoned (talking about awkward social moments lol).
It’s when he said:

Let him who is without sin cast the first stone

With one simple sentence, Jesus put the attackers on the same level as the victim: everyone’s a sinner.
Once everyone was on the same level, he robbed the attackers of their ability to pass judgments.
And relieved the pressure on the victim.

#6. Support Them By Relating With Them

No Worries, Everybody Poops

Of course, some of the most typical awkward moments involve body functions at the wrong time.

Ideally, your friend will own it without making a big deal about it, but this post is about how we can help our friends, not how to control their minds.

So a good technique to relieve pressure is to laugh at it… Naturally.

You want to avoid anyone thinks it’s weird, and you to do so you gotta believe it first.
It’s a natural, healthy body function.

Your friend might still feel singled out though. “Yeah sure, it’s a healthy body function, but it was me who did it and you’re all laughing about what I did”, they might think.

That’s when you relate a short personal story of when you were also embarrassed.
Make others laugh at yourself so you take pressure off of your friend and get your own share of laughter.

Then you can keep talking about other people embarrassing stories or move on the conversation to something more relevant.

And this the wrong way to do it (from a silly video of top 10 farts, a typical socially challenging situation):

https://youtu.be/QdRTa0iK8zs?t=51

The host perks up, all surprised as if to say “oh my God, what have you just done”. That’s the opposite of helping our friends out of socially awkward situations.
Even worst, he looks around, which is a typical way of showing emotional disconnect.

People who laugh at other people’s expenses start by looking around. They’re looking for others to support them and “gang up with” (see more examples in the Social Power course).
All of which of course puts further pressure on the woman (and are rather low-quality behavior)

#7. Throw an Emotional Life Preserver

Problems Are Twice As Small With a Partner

The emotional life preserver is one of my favorites because there are no dangers of escalation, no losers and it actually strengthens the bond between the group.

Look at the example of Meet The Parents, a fantastic comedy based on awkward social situations and people more or less dealing badly with them:

Why is it so awkward?

For a few reasons, a big one being that nobody really takes Greg’s side or helps smoothen the transition.
Ideally, the person who will help us is either the most powerful or the one closest to us. In this case, imagine if this had happened:

Doctor: oh really what field
Greg: nursing
Doctor: ahahaha. no really, what field 
Greg: nursing 
Greg’s GF: (gets up, goes to Greg, kisses him on the cheek) Greg is one of the very best nurses in his hospital. He aced the MCATs but decided to be a nurse to stay closer to the patients and follow his heart. And that’s why I love him (takes a chair, invites him to sit, changes topic). Greg, you absolutely have to try this jam, it’s from our aunt’s farm, Michelle (points to Michelle) and it’s deeeliiicious. Greg also loves natural products auntie.

Social Support: The Top Socialite Way

The top socialite save their friends from awkward situations in two socially savvy ways:

Smoothly & Subtly

Your Friend is Not a Lost Puppet

Subtlety is the name of the game.

Your goal is always to land a hand in the most subtle way possible. And draw the least possible attention to your social rescue move.

Why?

Because the more obvious your rescue is, the more attention you draw to the social faux pas and the more you are communicating that your friend made a mistake.
And, of course, more attention to the fact that your friends need your help.

People resent those who help them too obviously, because that’s not real help.
That’s us showing off our social power.

Do it subtly instead. Help them save face, but making it seem as if nothing happened.

Cordially & Quickly

Save The One Without Destroying The Whole

Ray Dalio says that the whole is more important than the individual person.

If your friend puts himself in awkward social situations, it’s often because he’s made a social faux pas.

And he is being “socially punished” for that.

If you save him too obviously, that also means that you going against the group.
And you don’t want to antagonize the whole group.

You will notice in the Terry example that the friend helping him asks “how was it”.
He didn’t ask “I’m super curious, tell me all about it”.
Or “oh cool man, do you like Italian food”.
These kinds of questions build up the victim too much, while encouraging them to ramble on.

Terry has made a mistake and the group has already spoken about that. And albeit he might have not deserved a harsh punishment, you don’t want to keep going against the group.

“How was it” instead is a neutral question that does not build him up, and which invites a quicker reply, such as “oh it was really good”.
Terry saved faced, the topic is closed… And now we can all happily move on.

The Social Rescue Equation

To generalize, you rescue people in social situations in two ways:

  1. Putting your social weight behind them
  2. Neutralizing the social threat causing embarrassment

Notice that it doesn’t really matter what the “social threat” causing the awkward situation is.

It can be another person -as in Antony’s case-, a blooper caused by the person himself -passing gas- or anything else in the surrounding. But the principle is still always the same.

Example: Blaming the Circumstances
Your friend might be embarrassed because they “walked through” a glass door and hit their face.

The situation is embarrassing because, the mind goes, it’s silly not to see it was a door.

But is it really silly?

You can still single out the door as the “embarrassing agent” and take power away from it to rescue your friend.

You can say for example that it’s idiotic to use such perfectly transparent glass as a door.
“I would have hit it myself”, you can add.

Now it’s less about your friend being awkward and more about the safety issue of a transparent door.

Summary

Saving our friends from awkward social situations is about showing we are close to them and then helping them up.
And, when applicable, by taking pressure off of them and shifting blame to the embarrassing agent.

Always do it as smoothly and quickly and possible. And everyone will love you for that.

For more serious social ju-jitsu also read:

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