What do you say in one of these awkward situations:
- Someone just overshared and told you waaaaay too much information
- Someone told you their family member passed away
- Someone went off on a tangent, and now you are both staring at each other without knowing what to say
Yikes! You don’t want to be rude or make yourself look bad, but you can practically hear crickets chirping as you panic to come up with a socially-acceptable response.
Whether you’re tongue-tied, nervous, or having a “brain fart,” knowing what to say in uncomfortable conversations is an important social skill. Though you may be cringing internally, these are crucial moments for exuding kindness, confidence, and charisma. Here are 30 things to say when you don’t know what to say.
30 Things To Say When You Don’t Know What To Say
There are plenty of awkward moments in everyday conversations, but the best conversationalists can knock conversation curveballs out of the park with confidence, empathy, and charisma. Next time you struggle with what to say, try these simple responses to difficult situations.
1. What to say during an awkward silence
These three approaches to an awkward silence will generate some discussion or at least give you time to exit the conversation politely. Fill in the blank with these tangent phrases. These phrases are meant to introduce a new line of conversation smoothly.
- By the way…
- Oh, I have been meaning to mention…
- This is so random, but today I was just wondering…
Then you can give a genuine compliment, then ask a question. Like:
- “By the way, I love your shirt! Where did you get it?”
- “I meant to tell you I enjoyed your presentation on [topic] yesterday. What inspired you to study that?”
- “Your voice is so unique. Are you a singer?”
Or you can mention an interesting news item, a funny video you saw, or a question you have been meaning to ask them. Like:
- “By the way, have you seen the new schematics the client sent over? They are totally different than we expected.”
- “I’ve been meaning to ask you, did you see the new octopus meme going around? It reminded me of the bumper sticker you have on your desk.”
- “This is so random, but have you seen the new show on Netflix? I binged it last night and am dying to talk to someone about it.”
Pro Tip: Always keep a quick question in your back pocket for awkward silences. When it feels like there is nothing to say, a simple go-to is, “What was your favorite part of today so far?”
For a deeper connection, ask story-generating questions instead of “yes/no” questions:
- “Anyways, I heard that you are working on [project]. How is that going?”
- “What’s something you love doing that you wish you had more time for?”
- “That’s so cool you play/do [hobby]. How did you get started?”
- “If you had an entire weekend to spend however you wanted, what would you do?”
- “Where did you learn to [skill]?”
Learn more in our full guide on Awkward Silence: Make the Most Of It or Get Rid Of It.
2. What to say when someone thanks you
From casual “thank you’s” to big displays of gratitude, it always feels good to be appreciated. However, if you are prone to people pleasing or feel awkward accepting praise, you may not know how to respond to genuine thankfulness. Here is how to respond in different “thank you” scenarios:
- If they thank you for a simple act like holding the door: “It’s my pleasure,” or “No problem!” (with a smile)
- If they thank you for a favor: “Happy to help!” or “It wasn’t a bother, I know you’d do the same for me.”
- If they thank you for accepting their apology: “No worries, we all make mistakes.”
- If they thank you for being there for them in a rough time: “Of course, I’m always here for you.”
- If they thank you for a compliment: “No problem, you deserve it!” or “You’re very welcome.”
- If they thank you for a gift: “You’re welcome. I’m glad you liked it.”
3. What to say when someone apologizes
Apologies can feel like relief or a vapid promise depending on the situation. Gauging your response requires emotional intelligence and a keen awareness of your boundaries.
Remember that some people over-apologize due to low self-esteem or a bad habit. For example, many tend to say “I’m sorry” instead of “excuse me.” However, some people have a toxic cycle of verbalizing an apology without changing their actions. Here is how to politely respond in different scenarios while protecting your own emotions:
- If they apologize for something minor like bumping into you: “No worries,” or “It’s not a big deal.”
- If you aren’t actually upset: “It’s OK; it’s not a huge problem. I forgive you.”
- If you have forgiven them: “Thank you, I needed to hear that. I forgive you and hope it won’t happen again.”
- If they apologize via text: “I appreciate the apology, but I hope we can discuss more in person.”
- If you still need space: “I’m grateful you realized your mistake, but I need more time to process it.”
- If you are still hurting: “Thank you for apologizing and taking responsibility. However, I am still hurt, and I’m not ready to return to usual.”
- If it seems their apology isn’t genuine: “Thanks, but I am not ready to accept your apology yet,” or “I appreciate your apology. I need time to reflect and see changes in your actions before we can move forward.”
4. What to say when someone brings up an inappropriate topic
You can feel the tension when someone brings up a controversial opinion or an inappropriate topic.
- Telling them that you don’t feel comfortable: “I would appreciate it if we didn’t talk about that in this setting.”
- Respectfully disagree: “I understand your opinion, but I do not agree.”
- Point out the awkwardness: “Wow, that’s a big topic! Let’s save that for another day.”
- Changing the topic: “So, what are you up to this weekend?”
5. What to say when you want to exit a conversation
A long lull in dialogue is sometimes a sign that a conversation isn’t going anywhere. That’s fine! You aren’t going to “click” with everybody. If the well of conversation topics is running dry, there is no use in wasting either of your time trying to fumble for things to talk about and force a connection.
However, you don’t want to seem rude or like you’re trying to escape. They could be important professional or personal contact in the future! Masterful conversationalists know that it may be best to end conversations on a positive note, regardless of your feelings about the other person—unless they are toxic people. These endings are quick, polite, and straight to the point:
- If it’s an old friend you don’t want to reconnect with: “It was so cool to hear what you’ve been up to. I’ll see you around!”
- If they are an acquaintance you are interested in: “That’s interesting. I’d love to connect on social media and follow more of your journey.”
- If it is someone you want to make plans with (but don’t have time right now): “It was so nice catching up with you. I’d love to continue our chat over lunch soon!”
- If you need to leave quickly: “Oh, I just realized I have to be somewhere at 3. Nice talking to you!”
- If trying to end a short interaction with a stranger: “I’m so glad we met. Thanks for sharing that story with me. It was hilarious! I hope you have an awesome day.”
- If speaking with someone you need to maintain a professional relationship with: “It is so great to see you. I’ll shoot you an email/text about [topic] soon.”
Just be sure you don’t make any promises you don’t plan on keeping. If you’re not going to reach out to them or make plans, simply bid them farewell and go on your way.
Here are another 62 Ways to Politely End a Conversation in ANY Situation.
What To Say When Someone Shares Good or Bad News
It’s hard to find the right words for someone going through a tough time, but you don’t want to come off as insensitive. Here is what to say when someone tells you bad news and you don’t know how to respond.
6. What to say when you hear that someone passed away
There is no way to truly comfort someone from losing a loved one. The best option is to express a genuine sentiment that shows you care.
- When extending condolences to an acquaintance: “I am so sorry for your loss.”
- Offer support for someone close to you: “I’m here for you if you need anything.” or “Is there anything I can do to support you?”
- Validate their feelings: “This must be a difficult time for you.”
- Say something kind about the deceased: “They will be so missed. He/she was such an incredible person in our community.”
Avoid saying anything that might trigger a deeper emotional wound or demonstrate that you don’t care. Do NOT:
- Don’t compare grief: “I remember when my grandpa died….”
- DON’T try to make sense of it: “Everything happens for a reason.”
- DON’T say they’re strong: “You are so strong.” (This is praising their emotional containment and can make them feel weaker when they are vulnerable)
- DON’T give advice: “You should….”
7. What to say when someone shares bad news
It’s normal to feel uncomfortable when someone shares unpleasant or bad news. You can’t fix the problem, but you don’t want to gloss it over and make them feel ignored. Try saying:
- “I’m so sorry to hear that.”
- “If you want to talk about it, I’m here for support.”
- “My heart goes out to you.”
- “How terrible/sad/awful. Is there anything I can do to help?”
- “I can understand why you would be super upset. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.”
8. What to say when someone is sick
Everyone faces sickness, from a passing cold to a severe illness at some point in life. If someone shares that they are trying to overcome a health issue, it’s important to express sympathy and, if you can offer support:
- “I’m sorry you have to go through this. I hope you feel better soon.”
- “Here is a video/tea blend/recipe that helped me a lot when I was feeling similar symptoms last year.”
- “Hey, I heard you are feeling under the weather, so I ordered some supplements to send your way. Get well soon!”
- “I heard you’re not feeling well. I’m worried about you. Is there anything I can do?”
- “Ugh, that’s the worst! I hope you can take some time for self-care and recovery.”
- “Sending healing vibes your way for a speedy recovery!”
- “I’m sorry you’re feeling bad. Can I bring you some soup this evening?”
9. What to say if someone is having a bad day
It can be hard to know what to say if someone is having a hard time or feeling down. Empathy is key! Try these:
- “I’m here to talk any time you need me.”
- “I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but I am here to help in any way I can.”
- “I care about you and am here for you if you need me!”
And if you want to know what to say when your friend is sad, try cheering them up with these jokes:
- “Why was the little strawberry crying? His mom was in a jam.”
- “If it’s any condolence, you look a lot cuter when you cry than I do.” (then make a silly ugly face)
Here are 76 Ways to Comfort Someone When They’re Feeling Down.
10. What to say if someone just had a baby
When someone shares the good news that they are pregnant or having a baby, try one of these simple responses:
- If the partner is present: “Ahhh, I am so happy for you both! You are going to be such great parents.”
- Compliment the baby: “They are so cute. I can see the resemblance to mom/dad.”
- Offer a favor: “Wow, you must be exhausted. I’ll bring over some dinner tonight!” or “I’m coming to get your laundry so you can rest!”
- Ask about the gender: “Congratulations! Is it a girl or a boy?”
- Ask about name ideas: “Oh my goodness, that’s so exciting! Have you started brainstorming name ideas?”
11. What to say if someone is getting married
Engagements can be a huge turning point in people’s lives, and you may want to share in the excitement. If someone shares the news that they are getting married to their lover, you can say:
- “I am so happy for you! Have you started planning the wedding yet?”
- “That’s amazing! What are you most excited about?”
- “You have to tell me how the proposal went!”
- “You guys are such a power couple. It’s about time!”
12. What to say when someone shares the good news
When someone shares positive news, it is the perfect opportunity to celebrate their achievements and join in on the positive energy. Even if you aren’t feeling quite as excited about your life right now, it’s important to celebrate the high point with them and demonstrate your support. You can say:
- “That’s so cool! Congratulations!”
- “I am glad to hear that you are making your dreams come to life!”
- “That is so amazing! I’m rooting for you!”
- “Yay! Thank you for sharing with me! Want to go grab a coffee/drink and celebrate?”
- “Well, you earned it. All your hard work is paying off! I am so proud of you!”
- “Congrats! What are you most excited about [the new job/raise/new house/new boyfriend/new hobby]?”
If someone is pleased with good news, avoid negative comments or criticism immediately. It’s also best to avoid overwhelming them with too many questions about what’s next. Instead, let them savor the celebration and ask questions about their excitement.
What to Say When Making Friends and Professional Contacts
13. What to say to get past small talk
If a conversation is stuck in the bland small talk phase, you can try a technique called conversational threading. Instead of going through the motions of the same old dialogue, conversation threading is when you find conversation sparks (things that they are interested in or things you have in common) and dig deeper into those topics.
- A simple question starts the conversation: “What’s your favorite hobby?”
- The person answers: “I love to travel!”
- You follow up with an open-ended question: “Oh cool, where are you most looking forward to traveling next?”
- They answer, and you listen for more clues to thread the conversation forward: “I’ve been dying to explore Southeast Asia. I love learning about Buddhist cultures.”
- Take the cue and thread it to another really good question: “That’s super interesting. What is it about Buddhist culture that draws you in?”
If you are sincerely interested in what they have to say, this cycle can go on and on. Rather than getting stuck in the boring small talk questions like “What do you do?” or “Where are you from?”, you can open up a deeper discussion with insightful questions like “What inspires you about that type of work?” or “What is your favorite thing about your hometown?”
14. What to say when you don’t know what to say in an interview
Have you ever been hit with a challenging interview question that made you feel completely lost? Instead of panicking about your lack of words, take a deep breath and respond with the following:
- Be honest: “To be honest, I don’t know the answer to that question, but I am interested in learning.”
- Clarify the question: “I don’t quite understand what you’re asking. Could you rephrase the question, please?”
- Buy some time: Use thoughtful body language like your hand on your chin or gazing up as you think and say, “Let me think about that for a moment.”
Remember to avoid these 8 Things You Should Never Say in An Interview.
15. What to say when your boss asks for feedback
When a manager asks for feedback from their team members, it’s usually a green flag that they are trying to improve their leadership skills. But it can be awkward if you don’t know how to respond.
Depending on their performance, feel free to respond with constructive criticism about something on your mind. Alternatively, you can compliment them if they are doing a great job. Try saying:
- “Thanks for asking! I need some time to think about it, and I’ll get back to you.”
- “I really appreciate how you have been [action] lately, but see room for improvement in [this area].”
- “Perhaps there is a better way to handle [certain situations].”
- “Honestly, your management style differs from what I’m used to. I like how you do X, but I am unsure how to respond to you when you do Y.”
16. What to say when you want to be funny
Humor is scientifically proven to make you more likable. When people don’t know what to say in a difficult or awkward situation, a quirky or silly response can help break the ice and get people laughing. Here are some hilarious one-liners to toss in a conversation when you’re at a loss for words:
- “So, what’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?”
- “I tried to be normal once… worst two minutes of my entire life.”
- “I like to be an example for others. Usually a bad example, though.”
- “I’d like to help you out today. Which way did you come in?”
For more, read our full guide on 140 Funny Things to Say In ANY Situation.
17. What to say at a networking event
Networking can be the bane of your existence or a grand opportunity to level up your career and business. The difference lies in how you engage with others. Pro networkers make unique first impressions and ask questions that spark interesting discussions. Instead of asking, “How are you?” or “What do you do,” try these conversation starters:
- “Working on anything exciting recently?”
- “Are you enjoying the conference so far?”
- “What brought you to this conference?”
- “What has been your favorite session/speaker?”
- “What brings you to this conference?”
- “Who is the most interesting person you have met here?
Here is more on How to Network at a Conference: 10 Ways to Make Contacts Like a Pro.
18. What to say when you’re talking to a stranger
When we’re kids, parents warn us of “stranger danger,” but as adults, you have to talk to strangers nearly every day at work, coffee shops, parties, and out in public. How do you approach somebody and start a conversation without feeling awkward or creepy? You can say:
- “Don’t you love the vibe of this place?”
- “How is the [food/coffee/event]?”
- “What brought you to [current city/place]?”
- “How do you know the host?”
- “Hey, how’s it going? I’m Logan.” (reaches for a handshake) “What’s your name?”
- “I really like your [shirt/jewelry/tattoo/accessory]. Where did you get it?”
Read our full guide on How to Talk to Strangers Like a Pro (& Avoid Awkwardness).
19. What to say when someone insults you
Children say, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” yet adults can say some pretty harmful things.
If someone openly insults you, the shame, embarrassment, or awkwardness of the situation can make it hard to know what to say back. If you want to avoid conflict, it’s typically best to stay calm and respond in one of these ways:
- Say nothing: Sometimes, the best response is to say nothing so you don’t give a bullying person the satisfaction of hurting your feelings.
- Play it off with a joke: “Remember when I asked for your opinion? Yeah, me neither!”
- Be positive: “Well, nobody is perfect! We’re all just out here doing our best.”
- Be sarcastic: “Wow, thank you so much for your kind words!”
When in doubt, a witty response is an easy way to disarm someone throwing insults and ensure that you don’t take their rudeness personally. Here is how to Be an Expert at Witty Banter…How to Charm With Your Words.
20. What to say when someone compliments you
Social scientists have found that expressing a compliment provides just as much joy for the compliment giver as it does for the recipient. However, receiving compliments can be hard for people with low self-esteem, social anxiety, or perfectionist tendencies. Demonstrate your thanks for a compliment by saying:
- “I really put a lot of thought into this. Thank you for recognizing it.”
- “I appreciate that! I’ve been working on….”
- “Thank you. I really like your [related item or attribute] as well.”
- “You are so sweet/kind! Thanks for noticing.”
- “Wow, that totally made my day! Thank you so much.”
21. What to say when someone is irritating you
It’s normal to get annoyed, but it is not socially wise to insult people irritating you. Instead of blaming or accusing the other person, you can use these “I” statements to request that they stop an aggravating behavior politely:
- “I need some space right now, please.”
- “Listen, I need to let you know that [behavior] makes me feel [emotion].”
- “Honestly, I get really irritated when you [irritating behavior]. Could you please do [alternative] instead?”
What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say in Romantic Situations
22. What to say if someone expresses feelings for you (and you don’t share them)
Dealing with unrequited love can be one of your most awkward conversations. But it is also a big test of your emotional intelligence. You have to clarify that you aren’t interested, but you must communicate it politely, so you don’t hurt someone’s feelings severely. If you don’t know what to say, try responding:
- “Aw, thank you. I think you’re a great person, but I’m not interested in you that way. Can we just be friends?”
- “Thanks, you are so kind. Unfortunately, I am already involved with someone else.”
- “I appreciate you saying that, but I don’t think we are a good match based on our life situations. I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
- “I appreciate that so much, but I’m not looking for anything serious right now.”
23. What to say when your significant other is upset
When your partner is upset, you can feel at a loss for words. Whether they are sad, angry, frustrated, disappointed, or hurt, emotional validation is one of the most important things you can give them. It’s essential to show that you care without invalidating their experience or trying to make them change their emotions instantly. Try saying:
- “Tell me more. I want to hear everything.”
- “I completely understand why you would feel that way, and I’m really sorry you’re upset. Let me know if there is anything I can do.”
- “I’m here to listen.”
- “I know you’re feeling [emotion] right now, and I want to let you know that I am here to listen and support you.”
- “It is completely reasonable why you feel [emotion]. I’m so sorry, and I want to make it right. What can I do to fix this?”
24. What to say when you want to flirt
The modern-day dating game isn’t always easy to demystify, but the science of flirting points to one major formula you can use when you feel tongue-tied in front of a crush: Compliment them + ask a question. Instead of a pick-up line, say:
- “You’re the most intriguing people in this room. I’m dying to know, what’s your story?”
- “Your [hair/eyes/style] is stunning. Did you get them from your mom or dad’s side?”
- “I really like your tattoo. Where did you get it?”
- “That is a cool band t-shirt. What kind of music are you into?”
- “I feel really drawn to you. I would love to know more about you.”
Here are 30 Ways to Effortlessly Start a Conversation With A Guy and 25 Ways to Masterfully Make Conversations With Girls.
25. What to say when you ask a girl or guy out
The good old days of asking, “Will you go out with me?” seem gone. If you don’t know what to say to ask your crush out, try a simple, confident invite such as:
- “Do you want to grab a coffee with me tomorrow morning?”
- “What do you think about taking our dogs to the park this weekend?”
- “You mentioned you love [a band/movie/hobby]. I have two tickets to [event] next weekend. Would you join me?”
- “What’s your favorite food?” (wait for answer) “Could I take you out to [restaurant] this week?”
- “Have you seen [latest movie]? Want to go together?”
Here is more about How to Ask Someone Out: 8 Steps for a Yes Every Time.
26. What to say when you break up with someone
Anyone who has been heartbroken will probably feel afraid to break someone else’s heart. If you need to end a relationship, it’s much kinder to say something directly than nothing. Wait for a quiet, private moment and tell them:
- “I’ve had a great time with you, but I think it’s best if we part ways.”
- “I have to talk to you. [Specific problem] isn’t working for me in our relationship. We want different things, so maybe we should break up.”
- “I’m sorry, but this isn’t working between you and me. I think it’s best we go our separate ways.”
- “I appreciate all you’ve done for me, but I’m just not ready for a relationship.”
- “You are awesome, but I don’t think we are right for each other.”
27. What to say when you miss someone
Whether you’re in a long-distance relationship or unable to see your partner for a while, you may not know what to say to express how much you miss them. Here are a few cute and thoughtful ways to say “I miss you”:
- Send a photo of where you are: “I wish you were here.”
- Tell them they’re on your mind: “I think about you all the time.”
- Fun morning texts: “It’s not the same [waking up/going to the gym/making dinner] without you.”
- Send a photo or meme of something they like: “This reminded me of you. I can’t wait to see you again.”
28. What to say if someone rejects you
Researchers have validated that being rejected triggers the same parts of the brain as physical pain. According to our polls, most people would instead feel physically hurt than heartbreak! Still, almost everyone gets rejected at some point in their life.
Because this can be highly emotional and confusing, it is helpful to pause and calm yourself before responding. You don’t want to appear desperate, dramatic, or overly intense. Instead, you can gracefully reply with the following:
- “I understand. That’s nice of you to let me know how you feel, and thanks for the great times we shared.”
- “No worries, maybe we can just stay friends instead? Let me know if you want to hang out soon.”
- “I appreciate your honesty. I wish you all the best!”
- “That’s fine. I hope you find the type of partner you’re looking for.”
Learn more about Why Rejection Hurts So Much And How To Heal The Pain.
29. What to say if someone says I love you
When someone you’re dating randomly pulls out the “L” word, it can often leave you frozen. You may not know what to say or how to react, but you shouldn’t feel pressured to respond a certain way. You can say:
- If you truly love them back: “I’m crazy about you, and I love you, too!”
- If you’ve been craving to hear it: “I can’t tell you how much it means to me to hear those words.”
- If you need time to reflect: “Thank you. I like you, but I need more time to understand what I’m feeling.”
On the other hand, people in a long-term relationship may get tired of simply responding, “I love you, too.” Here is how to spice it up with a sweet response:
- “There is nothing better than hearing you say that. I love you so much, too.”
- “You make my world brighter.”
- “I appreciate you so much, darling.”
- “I don’t think I can express how much I love you.”
- “Thank you for loving me. I love and adore you!”
30. What to say if someone ghosts you
Ghosting is a modern dating trend where someone suddenly stops responding to your messages and completely ignores any attempts to reach out. Their communication vanishes. This is a harmful way of breaking up or ending a “situationship” without having to do the dirty work of simply saying, “it’s over.”
There’s no denying that ghosting hurts! The lack of closure can trigger all sorts of anxiety, confusion, and lack of self-esteem. Still, you must understand that they are probably doing this because of their trust issues, attachment style, past relationship trauma, or fear of confrontation.
Most dating experts recommend not texting anything after being ghosted. If you absolutely must reach out, wait at least a week and then respond with one of these options:
- Check on them: “Hey, are you OK? It’s been a minute.”
- Ask for clarity: “Hey, I totally understand if you’re not feeling this anymore, but I can’t read your mind. Would you like to go our separate ways?”
- Make a joke: “Well, see you never Casper!”
Key Takeaways: When You Aren’t Sure What to Say, Ask Questions and Show Empathy
Navigating uncomfortable or awkward situations is a social skill that can help you in all areas of your life. When you genuinely feel lost about what to say, remember to:
- Ask questions: People like to talk about themselves, and when you ask them questions, you show that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say. If you don’t know what to say, ask another question about your conversation partner.
- Be honest: If you don’t know the answer to a question or must confront a complex topic, it’s best to be straightforward about your feelings.
- Show empathy: Whether it’s good news or bad news, understanding and validating someone else’s emotions is vital for forging more profound connections.
Crack The Code on Facial Expressions
The human face is constantly sending signals, and we use it to understand the person’s intentions when we speak to them.
In Decode, we dive deep into these microexpressions to teach you how to instantly pick up on them and understand the meaning behind what is said to you.
Don’t spend another day living in the dark.
To feel more confident in your daily interactions, here is How to Have and Hold Dazzling Conversation With Anyone: We Review 11 Science-Backed Steps.