You are talking to an acquaintance or having dinner with your coworkers. The conversation suddenly comes to a crossroads and no one knows where to steer it. The silence has extended past the 6-second mark and the awkwardness is increasing exponentially. Worst of all, you were the last person to speak, so everyone thinks the awkwardness is your fault.
The Solution: Sudden, loud noise
You are having a great time, talking loudly, feeling like the life of the party. You are soaring on wings of confidence. You get a little too bold. Something offensive slips out.
Now everyone is staring at you and your confidence implodes like a punctured balloon. Suddenly you can't find anything to say. You are nothing. You are dirt. Your soul is soaking up shame like a sponge and you are beginning to weigh the value of your friendships against the magnitude of your embarrassment.
The Solution: Confuse...
... or redirect...
Getting caught staring
Sometimes you are ogling a pretty girl, sometimes you are trying to get a better look at a horribly misshapen person and sometimes you are just spacing out and your eyes happen to be pointing directly at someone.
Whatever the case, when you are caught, you will feel shame. Lots and lots of shame.
Encounters with close talkers
Conversations with close-talkers are usually only awkward on your end. They could be telling you about how they found ten miniature unicorns in their backyard and all you are thinking about is whether your breath stinks and exactly how to angle your head so that you aren't breathing on them, but it still kind of looks like you are paying attention.
I am painfully bad at avoiding/extricating myself from this one. I get sucked into all sorts of unwanted conversations about crazy political conspiracy theories, the annual budget for sports teams I don't care about, advanced scientific debates that I am woefully underprepared for and probing discussions about my breast health. One time, on a Greyhound bus ride to Seattle, I talked to a woman I didn't know for 7 hours about her divorce because I couldn't figure out how to end the conversation.
Generally, unwanted conversations happen unexpectedly, so there is very little you can do to avoid them.
The Solution: I have no idea; you tell me.
Responding to someone who isn't talking to you
The Solution: You have several options