Shyness and awkwardness in social situations can be debilitating to your emotional wellbeing. But fear not, here’s how to avoid being socially awkward.
Being socially awkward isn’t just a case of occasionally feeling embarrassed or getting things wrong. For many people, it can be a real curse, destroying their ability to maintain healthy social lives or develop meaningful relationships.
Often, people suffer in silence, just believing that there’s something inherently wrong with them that can’t be fixed. However, if you suffer one or more of the following symptoms, be assured that the problem is simply an unwanted dose of social awkwardness, which can easily be fixed.
The symptoms of social awkwardness
#1 Feeling under the spotlight. When you’re in social situations, do you feel like everyone is watching you, just waiting for you to make a mistake? If so, this is a classic sign of social awkwardness and anxiety, where your common sense has been defeated by an overwhelming nervousness around other people. [Read: 10 simple ways to be a more socially conscious person]
#2 Clumsiness. Walking suddenly becomes a massive ordeal when you’re around other people, and a normally comfortable and relaxed gait tightens up into an uncoordinated swinging of limbs. Likewise, all other motor functions respond to your nerves, making the simplest action seem like an intensive test of cognitive control.
#3 Poor understanding of social cues. Are you one of those people who never knows when to shake a hand or kiss a cheek? Maybe you struggle to understand when it’s appropriate to laugh or shout, and you nearly never get it right, mainly because you’re overthinking and obsessing over what should be an organic event.
#4 Awkward conversation. When you’re socially awkward, your conversation with others just never flows naturally. It overlaps and interrupts, or you end up leaving huge silences and overly prominent pauses where it would have been more appropriate to contribute something to say. Maybe your mind goes blank and you just can’t think of anything to say. [Read: How to make small talk without feeling awkward]
#5 Inappropriate conversation. This is one of the most burningly embarrassing of all the misfires caused by being socially awkward, and it can cause a lot of misconceptions about the nature of your character. Blurting out a sexist comment in front of a group of people of the opposite sex, for example, relaying crudities in polite company, or failing to enter the spirit of a drunken night out with friends can severely cripple any social situation.
#6 The man on the moon syndrome. Do you, quite simply, feel like everyone else is from a different planet? Like there is nothing in common between you and the rest of humanity, which then leads you to seek your own company more and more? If so, you are definitely suffering the ill consequences of social awkwardness. [Read: 7 powerful ways to combat and break out of loneliness]
Here’s how to avoid being socially awkward
Unfortunately, there is no one answer to overcoming your awkwardness. But you can implement of a number of steps over time that will eventually curb your nervousness when out in public. If you think you do suffer from this particular curse and wish to do something about it, then the following steps can be ways to get over your social hurdles and start mingling with the rest of society.
#1 Think outside yourself. You are not the center of the universe, and not everyone is thinking about or looking at you. They’re thinking about their jobs, partners, children, and a thousand other things, but usually not you. Once you realize this, you’ll be a lot happier interacting with others.
#2 Listen. A lot of the reason why you get conversational and social cues wrong is that you’re so tense and worried about making mistakes that you don’t listen properly to people. Start to focus on your listening skills and let the virtuous circle begin. [Read: 10 ways to be a better listener]
#3 Stop. If you’re getting clumsy, getting things wrong, and becoming aware that you’re making things a bit awkward, then STOP. Stop everything—thought, movement, speech, etc.—and take a deep breath before starting over again. Even slippery slopes can be climbed.
#4 Straighten up. You probably don’t feel like you need to be told to sit up or stand up straight, but people with social awkwardness do tend to collapse in on themselves. Despite the fact that slouching makes you look a bit odd and uncomfortable, it also impedes clear breathing and speech, which is likely to increase the number of social mistakes you make.
#5 Smile. Smiles and laughter are proven to relax you, reducing your awkwardness as well as putting others at ease so that they are more comfortable in your presence. This latter point, in turn, will add to your own comfort levels.
#6 Get started. A simple interview technique that works equally well in social situations is to initiate the conversation. Asking questions and complimenting people give you the power and control over the conversation, as well as put others at ease. A brilliant tactic to diffuse your nerves. [Read: 5 powerful steps to break out of your comfort zone]
#7 Learn to laugh at yourself. Don’t beat yourself up if you trip, stumble, or say something a bit silly. Really, there’s nothing wrong with being socially awkward. Those who learn to laugh at themselves come off as supremely confident, and the simple act of laughter itself will break the tension. [Read: How to be funny and make people love your company]
#8 Make notes. As you’re talking to people, make mental notes of things they are saying. This serves several purposes. Firstly, it will force you to listen to the conversation and get your social cues right.
Secondly, the act of committing things to memory will distract you from your own nerves, a kind of auto-cognitive sleight of hand. Thirdly, you can use those mental notes later in the conversation to stimulate further talk and bridge any awkward silences. [Read: How to keep a conversation going with the opposite sex]
#9 Tighten up. This is a bizarre tip, but it really does work to get over feeling social awkward. If you’re sitting down while in a social situation and you feel your nerves start to rise, then clench your buttocks tight and keep them clenched. For some reason, this simple act seems to relax the rest of your body, as well as distract your mind from the anxiety that it’s starting to indulge in.
#10 Don’t dwell. There’s an obsessive compulsive element to most social awkwardness, and the mind tends to dwell upon mistakes you’ve made, pulling you into your own head and out of real life. When this happens, you become even more awkward, so you need to utilize the “Mindful Stop” technique.
This essentially means mentally shouting out the word “stop” as loudly as you internally can, and use that thinking space to refocus on real life. You may have to do this a few times in succession, and it might take a little practice to make it truly effective, but it does work if you persevere.
Now that you’re armed with a little knowledge and the tools to combat feeling socially awkward, it’s time to start living your life how it’s meant to be lived, and leave that wallflower mentality at home!
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David Cullen is frequently described as erudite, insightful and witty – but only by himself and only after several large glasses of Rioja....