I’ve been socially awkward my whole life.
From struggling to talk to girls, to making a fool of myself in front of groups of people, I’ve never been comfortable meeting new people and making a good impression.
So about two years ago, I decided to change this. I was sick of making a bad impression and not living life to the full.
And two years later, I can safely say that life has changed for the better. I’ve tried my hardest to push myself socially. It’s paid huge dividends for my wellbeing and happiness.
The best bit?
I didn’t have to do anything crazy or out of character. I just had to work on a few things.
So in this article, I’m going to explain exactly what worked for me.
But first, I’ll talk about four signs that you are actually socially awkward.
4 signs you’re socially awkward
1) You’re chronically nervous in social settings
A socially awkward person doesn’t feel comfortable in most social situations.
This is particularly the case for meeting new people. This nervousness affects their ability to appear normal and make new friends.
2) They don’t understand what to do in social situations
Some people just don’t understand what they’re meant to do in social situations. This isn’t necessarily because of nervousness.
They just aren’t clued on with what’s appropriate to talk about, or what they’re actually meant to do.
Saying the wrong thing or acting the wrong way can insult people, or make others feel uncomfortable.
According to Dr. Ty Tashiro in Time Magazine, socially awkward people fail to notice minor social expectations:
“Awkward people like myself have an unusual perspective. We overlook minor social expectations. And we then struggle to navigate routine social situations.”
3) There’s no flow to the conversation
We’ve all experienced conversations that have long gaps of silences. Or the chronic small-talk with nothing being said. For socially awkward people, this happens regularly.
4) They don’t have many friends
Most people tend to avoid the socially inept. They feel uncomfortable around them. This can cause them to have little friends or meaningful connections. They spend a lot of time alone.
Can you relate to any of these? For me, I’ve mainly been plagued with number one and number three.
If you can, then don’t worry. Here are the twelve things that worked for me:
12 ways to get over social awkwardness
1) Make this a goal for yourself
The first thing you need to do to overcome your social awkwardness is to make this a goal in your life.
Don’t half-ass it. If this is important to you, you’ll work on it.
There were several times when I told myself that I work on my social skills but I never really went through with it.
I only started seeing improvement when the penny dropped and I decided to dedicate myself fully to it.
So set the goal and decide that you are going to do whatever it takes so that you can feel less awkward in public, or at least, act less awkward.
You are allowed to feel any way you want to feel, but don’t let those feelings stop you from enjoying your life.
2) Accept that you’re anxious or nervous
Being anxious and nervous is never fun. Most of us tend to avoid these emotions. But when it comes to social anxiety, if you avoid it, unfortunately, you’re not going to get past it.
And if you hate it and fight against it, then it’s going to get worse.
I did that for years. I looked down on myself for experiencing emotions like nervousness and anxiety.
But when I decided that these emotions are just a part of who I am, I became more comfortable with them, and over time they became less strong.
So as much as it sucks, you’re going to have to go through some discomfort to improve your social skills.
By accepting that you’re nervous or anxious, you can move on with your actions.
It’s important to remember that negative emotions won’t kill you. They’re annoying, but not dangerous. And acceptance is much less of a drag than the ongoing attempt to avoid them.
After all, it is possible to overcome your social anxiety.
There’s no point judging yourself for having these nervous reactions, either. Feelings aren’t something we can control.
We can control our attitudes and actions towards these emotions, however.
3) You need to push yourself through (slight) discomfort
Now I want to make it clear that you don’t have to push yourself to unbearable limits and enter yourself into a difficult social situation to “get over it.”
It might not help and will most likely hinder your progress.
Instead, it’s time to take action one small step at a time.
Once you’ve committed to the goal of being less socially awkward, you need to start practicing it.
That means you need to get out and talk to more people, engage with others, and be seen more often than you are used to.
If you commit to this in a way that has you waiting around for opportunities to talk to people, you might be waiting forever.
Don’t take the cheap and easy way out of this exercise: make yourself go out and talk to people.
Start with the cashier at your local grocery store. Move on to chatting up the lady helping you try on clothes at your favorite store. It’s all about small gains.
Next, try calling up a friend and talking to them about your day and asking them about theirs. Baby steps will start to add up fast so long as you are doing the work.
(The only way to overcome challenges in life is through mental strength. Check out my new eBook on developing resilience and mental toughness here).
4) Learn social rules and norms
A lot of us have trouble with interpersonal situations because there are many unwritten rules and norms that we don’t know about.
So while you won’t learn them all overnight, you need to understand the basic social norms and rules.
It’s not practical to formally list every social norm and guideline, but there are books that give an overview of the most basic norms.
There’s a lot of information on the Internet explaining social norms in specific situations.
For example, there are detailed articles that cover how to behave in concerts, job interviews, at work, etc.
If you do a specific Google search, chances are you might find some information for specific circumstances.
However, many social rules are unwritten, and you’re not going to get information on every single basic social rule.
You may be able to get someone to explain some to you. Maybe your friends or family can lend you a hand.
Usually, if you stick to being polite, kind and respectful of other people, you should be fine.
Sometimes you don’t want to be too direct in asking personal questions.
A great starting point is to learn from others and watch what they do. That will help you to avoid any mistakes they make.
Over time you’ll begin to behave according to social norms without even being able to articulate why you’re behaving a certain way.
5) Be interested in other people and ask questions
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” – Dale Carnegie
That quote from Dale Carnegie sums it up.
That was the most important takeaway I got from his famous book, How to Win Friends and Influence People.
And being interested in other people is one of the biggest things that’s changed my social interactions for the better.
There’s always something interesting about other people. There’s always something to learn.
There’s no reason to judge others, either. We all have incredibly unique circumstances, and there’s a logical reason for people to act the way they do.
And getting in the habit of listening will help you in more ways than you think. The key is to listen genuinely by focusing on what they’re actually saying.
In fact, one study conducted by Faye Doell (2003) showed that there are two different types of listening: “listening to understand” and “listening to respond”. Those who “listen to understand” have greater success in their interpersonal relationships than others.
Focusing on someone’s message is also a great way to shift your attention if you’re feeling self-conscious as well.
According to the great psychologist Carl Rogers, the key to good listening is to refrain from making judgments and to provide a safe environment for speakers.
Learn about them. Be curious and genuine. Get outside of your head and your problems and focus on others. It’s a great way to get rid of self-consciousness.
Remember, listen carefully, and the follow-up questions will come naturally.
It definitely takes practice, but here are some tips to become a better listener:
– Put yourself in the shoes of the speaker. Think about what they’re saying from their perspective.
– Avoid making assumptions or judgments.
– Pay attention to their feelings as they’re talking.
– Talk to them back in their own words (empathetic reflection).
– Look into their eyes as they’re speaking.
– Acknowledge that you’re listening by nodding or saying “uh-huh” or “yep”.
– If possible, summarize their comments if given a chance so you can better understand.
– Focus on fully taking in the message that someone is trying to get across.
6) Don’t criticize or insult others
This is a big one that I feel is worth sharing. Many of us who are socially awkward can be too honest sometimes which can offend some people. Instead, take a step back and think before you speak.
Ask yourself if what you’re saying could come off as criticism, and if it could, then don’t say it. It’s not worth it. Dale Carnegie in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People says that criticism really is futile:
“Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses resentment. …. Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”
There are several methods that you can use to learn how to think before you speak, but the most tried and true method of improving your communication skills by thinking before you speak is to use the THANKS Technique.
Put simply, is what you are about to say true, helpful, affirming, necessary, kind and sincere?
7) Learn routines
Many people will roll their eyes when they hear this, but learning social routines helped me a great deal.
I had pre-planned questions to ask people, pre-planned stories and even pre-planned jokes.
Many of the best social people out there tell the same stories over and over again.
And what happens? They get better and better at telling it.
When you know exactly what you’re going to say, you don’t have to worry about thinking on the spot. Instead, you can speak slowly and confidently and use great body language.
All it takes is a bit of preparation before a social interaction. Have questions to ask and stories to tell. You can even write it down on your phone in case you forget.
We’re always told to study and practice a subject to become an expert, but isn’t it funny that we never do the same for social interactions? It’s a huge part of our life and the better prepared you are, the better you’ll do.
8) Don’t try to hide your awkwardness
Your first instinct might be to try to hide how awkward you are, but people have built entire careers in acting and television on being awkward.
Think of your favorite comedian: they are probably so awkward it hurts, but they’ve found a way to capitalize on their awkwardness.
I’m not saying you need to get up on stage and make fun of yourself, but embrace how awkward you are instead of trying to bury it deep down inside.
Not only will this help you be more accepting of yourself, but it will show others that you are not ashamed of who you are.
People enjoy being around others who are authentic and honest, not those who try to be someone they’re not.
9) Say what you think and then stop. Don’t ramble.
One of the best ways to get your awkwardness under control is to say what needs to be said and then stop there.
We all hate a long string of silence in a conversation, but as part of your bid to embrace your awkwardness, just let the words hang in the air and don’t try to fill it up with anything else.
When we’re feeling awkward we can tend to ramble and talk too much. But if you focus on the content of what you’re saying, you’ll realize that you only need to say what needs to be said. It’ll make you more clear and easy-to-understand as well.
This leaves room for other people to talk and it takes the onus off of you to be the star of the show.
10) Get fit
You may not like this one, but it’s fair to say that sitting in front of the TV or computer all day won’t do much for your self-esteem.
A sedentary lifestyle does little to raise your fitness level and confidence. But the truth is, being fit, feeling good and looking good will improve your self-esteem.
Heather Hausenblas of the University of Florida reviewed 57 intervention studies on the topic of exercise and how it makes people feel and found that “the simple act of exercise and not fitness itself can convince you that you look better.”
A few years ago, I was a skinny twig with a potbelly. Today, I have more muscle than I’ve ever had.
Now don’t get me wrong; it’s not the magic bullet that’s miraculously improved my self-esteem.
But it has helped. I feel good about my body, and I know that I look more appealing than I used to.
So go outside, exercise and get fit. It’s great for your health, your mood and your self-esteem.
11) Be more interesting
You don’t have to be a billionaire, or a CEO, or an astronaut to hold people’s attention. You just need to highlight your passions and skills.
When you’re proud of something you’re good at, or you’re passionate about a particular topic, you’ll be way more engaging when you speak about it.
You can also organize routines and stories about them as we discussed above. If you don’t have any passions or skills, then it’s time to find some.
For me, I love Australian rules football, digital marketing and running (I’m going to do a marathon soon).
I find it much easier to get along with people who are interested in the same things.
So once you find some things you enjoy talking about, you can seek out people who are interested in the same thing. It’ll make your social conversations a lot easier.
12) Don’t lead the way.
Speaking of being the star of the show, if you feel far too awkward to talk to other people on your own, find yourself a wingman or wingwoman and go out on the town with them.
Let them start up the conversations. Nobody said you had to be the president of the social club: you get to show up as much or as little as you want.
But don’t hide away just because you keep telling yourself you are awkward. As part of your work to overcome your social awkwardness, try thinking another thought about yourself.
If being awkward makes you feel bad about yourself, change the story to “I’m quirky” or “everyone is quirky” and you’ll start to see yourself as part of the pack and not an outsider.
Because truthfully, we are all weird and awkward. You might not see it, but people feel it. It’s part of being human. We’re all looking to belong somewhere.
Being socially awkward is never fun, but I’m here to tell you that you can get over it. All it takes is a little bit of experience, a little bit of preparation, and with enough practice, you’ll be having a whole lot of fun.
Stick at it, and you’ll get there.
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