At least I was.
I learned to get over it and while I still sometimes dip my toe in the cringy sea, I can dry it off and pop my socks and shoes back on. Hopefully without getting any sand in my shoes.
While there is no one size fits all solution, socially awkward folk often exhibit certain traits and behaviours. Let’s run through some common problems and tips for beating social awkwardness
1) EVERYONE has awkward moments. EVERYONE can be awkward sometimes.
No one has a perfect social interaction every time. It what’s going on internally that makes the difference.
There are socially awkward moments and there are socially awkward people.
2) Feeling nervous in social situations
This is often the keystone, which holds the rest of the socially awkward arch up. You’ve been awkward before, so you think you’ll be awkward again, which makes you act a bit weird, and you come across as awkward, and the whole spiral feeds itself like Ouroboros eating its own tail.
It’s time to develop your social confidence. You can have fun, you can be yourself, you can do the things – it takes practice and time, like with any skill. And it can be learned.
And this will take a whole other blog post to break down but in essence – accept who you are, have some healthy expectations of any social gathering (that you will be fine, that it’s a great opportunity to get some practice), and get any friends to help.
It’s really not the end of the world if you go and fuck up a social interaction. I do it all the time! Being able to laugh at myself and move on means people just let it go.
3) In group work you’re the last to pair off/group up
I was asked to help with this one and it’s one that often needs all the other points to be worked on first. These situations are usually based on your past interactions with people, and so you need to take charge and demonstrate that you’re a good partner to work with.
Warming the group up, by improving your interactions over a longer term, will help you out here.
I remember being put in a new tutorial group at University where everyone already knew each other. I was very much the outsider and back then I wore a massive eyebrow piercing, a spike (because I was a bad ass skater boi…) and I later learned that they thought I “must be a psycho” because of it.
Over time we became friends, and it was my responsibility to make it happen. How did a socially awkward skate boi do it?
So take charge! Offer up a specific compliment relevant to the piece of work “The way you tackled X problem was great”. Learn what the group is in to and have topics ready to go – “did you see the match?”, “how’s your progress in Fortnite going?”, “how did you get on with the assignment?”.
You don’t have to learn their life story, just being around them will give you some cues to follow.
4) You overthink things
Oh so similar to point 2. Look. Conversation is at least 50% the other person’s responsibility. it’s not solely yours, so if you open your mouth and nothing comes out don’t fret.
Those throwaway comments that your boss/tutor/colleague made? They were just that.
Other people can think whatever the hell they like about you, it’s their right, and it is yours to do the same. But instead of thinking bad thoughts about them or yourself, get into meditation, mindfulness, and start harnessing your thoughts.
5) You make jokes that don’t land
We all have a different sense of humour. I know that the things I find REALLY bloody funny are not everyone’s cup of tea and that’s ok. I like things surreal or silly. I like Carry On style double entendre. I know that not everyone is going to enjoy a bawdy pun, which is actually hiding a dick joke.
Sometimes they don’t land. Sometimes they can offend people. Read the room, check the level of banter and match it.
And if your joke is met with tumbleweeds, laugh at yourself with an “oof tough crowd”. If someone gets upset, apologise: “I’m really sorry, I know that one was near the knuckle and I apologise.” Admitting you got something wrong will often win people over – everyone is allowed to be socially awkward!
6) Missing non-verbal cues
Sometimes people are done talking about a certain topic, or with a certain person – the non-verbal cues give us these clues. If you haven’t learnt them then it can cause an awkward moment.
By learning and spotting them, you can end a conversation a bit more elegantly.
Here are some of the possible cues:
- Turning away from you
- Playing with their phone
- Edging away
- Stops asking questions
- Using one word answers or short sentences
They’re not the same for everyone, and watching social interactions and how your friends and colleagues interact and end conversations can help you to model and learn this.
7) People keep their distance, physically
Do you smell? Seriously. I’m not being rude, but do you smell bad?
Do an audit of your personal hygiene – how often do you wash? Brush your teeth? Wash your clothes? Wash your coat – coats need washing too or they get smelly. Are you a smoker? Have you had strong smelling food?
How about the volume of your voice? Are you speaking at an appropriate volume for the situation, and for the person your talking to? Are you too loud for them? Are you too loud for the room? Are you talking about something personal too loudly?All of these things could be causing people to back away – ask a trusted person to have a sniff.
8) Conversations fall flat
Have some topics in your back pocket, read the news, have some silly apps on your phone to fill in any gaps. Small talk is fine, so if the weather is strange, talk about the weather.
Unless its relevant or you know the person well enough, avoid tricky subjects such as Brexit, death, war, etc.
Make it about the other person – people often love to talk about themselves so instead of worrying about the interaction, be interested in them, what they do, their interests.
Pay attention to their non-verbal cues to make sure you don’t ask too many questions.
So what do you do next?
1) Work on your confidence and self-belief
2) Get lots of practice in social situations
3) Stop caring what other people think
4) Learn the social norms for the situation
5) Play some tabletop roleplaying games – roleplay some situations as a confident person/elf/orc/pony. Yes, Dungeons and Dragons is great.
Well done. You’re already taking steps. Now go get ‘em tiger!
One social fuck up does not a lifetime make. Go out and have another go, practice, pour your XP into it and level it up.
And remember – you don’t HAVE to change for anyone. Do it for you and only if you want to.
Robin Bates – when I was told I was an expert in social awkwardness, it was pretty awkward.