Overcoming Social Awkwardness
While shyness can affect people in a lot of different ways one of the more common issues people face is with social awkwardness. Now, just like shyness, this comes in many different forms and levels. Anything from just trying to avoid eye contact during a conversation to full blown avoiding people because social situations are just too awkward for them. Being shy or introverted can really affect how you deal with people and this can really affect your life. Not being able to interact with people as much as you’d like will lose you opportunities and probably won’t get the social life you want.
But don’t worry – I’ve got a few exercises you can start practicing today which can help you stop being socially awkward. Keep in mind just like learning how to overcome shyness – this kind of thing takes time. You might be lucky and see a change right away but even if you don’t stick with it. And always keep in mind what I say in my shyness training – you need to retrain your social behavior and not force yourself. If you’re just forcing yourself you’re probably just going to reinforce the same bad practices so instead you need to properly pay attention to what you’re doing and understand the situation.
How to Overcome Social Awkwardness
1. Just Smile
I don’t mean walk around like you’re deranged or you’re carrying someone thumb in your pocket. Your goal isn’t to scare people off but the best way to instantly remove any of your own social awkwardness is to get yourself a warm reception. Now I don’t know if it’s just the way we’re wired but if you talk to the majority of people you don’t instantly get a warm reception from people. Maybe we’re cynical or we just don’t care about others for the most part – who knows. But if you stand with the same blank and expresionless face as most people do it’s not going to get you far.
Go with my general rule – just smile. I consider myself a genuinely nice guy which contributed a lot to overcoming my shyness and social awkwardness. If you just smile in a friendly way towards people they’re just going to naturally react better to you. A simple smile can make a huge difference but we really don’t smile as much as we think we do. Next time you’re walking along a busy street just look around and see how many people are really smiling.
Now obviously if you’re having a bad day I’m not saying walk around with a massive grin. But even if I’m just walking along the street to pick up some shopping and I start to feel socially awkward and avoiding peoples eye line (not that I do this anymore but I certainly did in the past) I’d find something to smile about. I’m generally pretty easily amused so this isn’t hard for me but everyone has something that makes them smile. Fix your mind on that and keep it there.
By greeting everyone with a warm reaction you’re going to get yourself a warm reaction from anyone you happen to interact with. A simple smile can hugely transform a social interaction. Not only will they react better with you but you’re going to get that confidence boost from their warmer reaction and that’s really going to help with your awkwardness.
Maybe don’t walk around grinning inanely at people but also don’t be put off by the few grumps you’ll probably meet. I follow this rule myself a lot and was walking along the street minding my own business one day and someone just out of the blue took offence to me and I smiled at them. Maybe he was just having a bad day, I’m still not sure to this day. Their reaction was a an annoyed
“What are you smiling at?”
I’m not really sure what prompted the answer but I replied.
Not only did it get me a better reception with a stranger who had apparently been annoyed at me in the past but we ended up talking for a while and both walked away smiling. I know it probably sounds like some pretty bad advice but honestly I used to be the most socially awkward person around and following this concept alone can make a huge difference.
2. Practice. Practice. Practice.
Now, again, in my shyness training we cover ways of practicing for social situations before they happen. You don’t want to force yourself into situations where you’ll panic because it can end up reinforcing your social awkwardness but you can certainly practice even with the people around you.
For example one pretty obvious physical clue of shyness and being socially awkward is being unable to hold eye contact with people you’re talking to or even walking past. If you find yourself casting your eyes downwards or finding distractions in your surroundings then you need to get into the habit of catching yourself doing this.
You can start by forcing yourself to keep your head up while you’re walking. Once you feel comfortable with this you can try to maintain eye contact when you catch someones eye and give them a quick smile before looking away. Then that’s an easy scale up to following that smile with a quick ‘hi’ as you walk past. Now this kind of thing might take a day or it might take months – it completely depends on you. But what’s important is you continue this practice of catching yourself following the same patterns you’re trying to break.
You’re not putting yourself into any confrontational situations by glancing, smiling or saying hi to anyone. Your goal should be continue to practice this and slowly retrain yourself that basic interactions like this have no call for shyness and social awkwardness. Now obviously there’s a limit to this. If you’re walking around saying hi to everyone you pass you’re probably going to weird someone out. Just judge the situation and at the very least keep your eyes from the ground and follow the ‘just smile’ rule.
Learning to keep eye contact with people can be pretty hard. Introverted people generally feel like they’re being rude for staring or something and cast their eyes downwards. But actually this is your shyness ‘self defense’ kicking in. It’s actually impolite to not look at people when you’re talking to them and what seems very hard to do sometimes is actually easy for people not suffering social awkwardness. Now I’ve talked before about the average time to hold eye contact and how to do it etc… but basically it’s just something you’re going to need to work on. Start small and scale it up, it’ll be hard at first but if you keep practicing it’ll become second nature.
3. It’s Easy to be Interested
The first two steps are great for lowering your social awkwardness while you’re walking along the street or something but at some point you’re going to get yourself into an actual conversation with someone. Now don’t panic. Firstly remember that you shouldn’t force yourself into this kind of situation unless you feel ready but if it does happen follow the basic guidelines I outline in my shyness advice.
And when your goal is overcoming social fear in these situations then I have two general rules to stick with.
- Keep eye contact.
- Be interested – not interesting.