And nothing makes it more unnerving than replaying it over and over in your head after the fact.
I’d say the solution is to not reflect on it at all, but let’s be real—whenever we experience something so terribly uncomfortable, it’s practically impossible not to overthink it and wonder what we could have done differently.
Instead, as someone who has faced (and survived) many awkward conversations, I have your two-step plan for quickly recovering and moving on more confident than before:
1. Consider the Circumstances
Yes, maybe you were having an off day, said some things, and made the conversation not as smooth as it could have been. But chances are you’re not the sole reason things got awkward.
Maybe the space you were in wasn’t ideal—it was too loud, too quiet, too crowded, too hot. Or, maybe the person you were talking to wasn’t ideal—they were asking overly personal questions, or brushing off all of your responses, or overall just came off kind of moody.
Basically, you found yourself in a situation that wasn’t ideal for presenting your best self—and I’m going to give you permission to blame the circumstances as much as (if not more) than yourself.
(Not to mention, you have to remind yourself that it’s quite possible the person felt just as awkward as you did.)
2. Remember It’s Not Your Last Chance
Once you realize all the factors—both internal and external—that contributed to that awkward conversation, it’s easy to throw your hands up and say “Well, guess I’ll never get the chance to make a better impression again.”
Sure, after that final round interview it can feel like you blew your one and only shot, but that’s just not true—your follow-up can make all the difference in changing the hiring manager’s mind. You may think that networking connection will never talk to you again, but you don’t know until you take the leap, reach out, and ask to meet for coffee.
Muse writer and HR expert Dorianne St. Fleur then says that the key to recovering from a bad first impression is to not only admit your mistakes—saying something like “I wasn’t as prepared as I should’ve been the last time we spoke, can we start over?” could do the trick—but also be prepared and consistent in your actions the next time around:
An important part of the process…is to make sure that the second time (and every time going forward) consistently highlights the qualities you’d like to be known for and eliminates the qualities you want to steer clear of.
Going for that second chance won’t always guarantee you land the job or become best friends with your new networking acquaintance, but it does salvage your reputation in their eyes—and confidence in yourself—just a little bit.
Lastly, remember that awkward encounters are normal. Everyone has them—the most successful, the most socially-equipped, the most experienced. Understand that while it can seem like the end of the world, it’s only a small blip in the sea of amazing impressions you’ll make throughout your life.