Social media can be criticized for many reasons, but let me acknowledge that it also has many upsides. I’ve made a number of acquantances with whom the paths would not have crossed due to physical distance and separation of knowledge spheres. I find new information and resources in that venue that enrich my life and work. Here is a tweet that gave me food for thought:

“Awkward: telling the stranger next to you on a flight that you don’t want to have a long conversation. We need Tinder for airplanes: a button to signal “chat mode” or “work mode” without being rude.”

The credit goes to Adam Grant (@AdamMGrant,, a brilliantly creative professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Indeed, whether we encounter a stranger on an airplane, or sitting in a cubicle at work, or mentally occupied at home, we do have people that completely ignore what we are doing and pipe in. Urgent need to get an answer? Disregarding other people because our state of mind overrides others? Whatever the reason, there are times when I hear people complain that they like to read, or watch a TV show or game, or even want to be quietly contemplating life, when others need more cues not to interfere.

This becomes a bigger issue at work, when colleagues stop in willy nilly, and at home, with our partners, when they insist on “connecting.”

So how do you handle this? I have a friend who started to put on ear buds at work to get away from the visitors. The flipside is that especially in a relationship, the interrupter feels offended if there is no immediate response back. Being ignored and not heard causes hurt feelings and if not addressed, eventually leads to creating a wedge in communication that can take us to divisive attitudes.

So what to do whether you are the offender or the offendee? The key lies in effective communication. What that means, to start with, is not to take it personally. We can’t read other people’s minds, even if we have known them for a long time, let alone a seatmate. So before getting any feelings hurt, ask if it is okay to talk or not. It is important at this point for the responder to acknowledge honestly and say yes or no without bringing in a sense of obligation and then resenting the consequence. We have all become aware of how power in one individual harms the connection in more ways than one. So treating others as an equal partner, whether in a long-term relationship, or a temporary one, goes a long way towards making life more enjoyable and less “awkward”!