Social awkwardness is more common than you may realize.
People often get overwhelmed with new situations and people that they don’t know.
Maybe they’re worried about making a good impression on new colleagues, looking for new friends, or hoping that some flirting will be well-received.
Even the most sociable people experience social awkwardness from time to time because it is tapping on the unknown.
That doesn’t describe everyone, of course. Some people experience little social awkwardness and seem to float through their interactions with ease.
Others find it much more challenging, to the point where the anxiety is enough to cause them to want to avoid socializing altogether. Social awkwardness can even enter mental illness territory where professional help may be needed to overcome the problem.
Yet, there are ways to improve one’s social skills and feel less awkward when socializing. Here are the most effective things you can do.
1. Don’t think of socialization as a performance with rewards.
Many people get sucked into thinking that some kind of reward hinges on their ability to socialize.
On the one hand, that may actually be true at times. A job interview is a scenario where socializing may lead directly to the reward of being hired. Or maybe you’re talking to someone who is a romantic interest, and you’re trying to impress that person with your social acumen.
The trick is to not be invested in the reward so that people can see you for who you actually are.
Yes, you may need that job, but ultimately you have no control over whether or not you get it. And if you don’t get it, it might have nothing to do with the way you socialized. It may be that someone better qualified applied or that there was a hiring freeze.
The same goes for the romantic example. You can’t control the outcome of whether or not that person wants to spend more time with you. All you can do is walk into the situation, be as authentic as you can be, and see how things go.
The problem with performing in a social context is that you may be presenting a side of yourself that is not real.
Abandon the idea of succeeding at socializing and embrace the moment for what it is. You’ll be able to forge more genuine, authentic conversations with people that way.
2. Ask the people you’re talking to questions.
An easy way to slip away from social anxiousness is to ask the other person questions.
Most people love to talk about themselves and what is going on in their lives. And if they are talking, then you don’t need to be! You can listen and give yourself a moment of respite in the conversation.
Be sure to actively listen. Active listening is when you are present in the moment and hearing what the other person has to say. Make eye contact. Avoid checking your phone, looking around, or fiddling with something while you are engaged in conversation. Focus on the person you are talking to.
3. Don’t compare yourself to other people.
Social awkwardness may be the result of unfairly comparing yourself to other people.
Don’t look at anyone else in the room to see how you measure up. You don’t need to compare yourself to others because you have an entirely different life and trajectory that is uniquely your own.
It’s easy to feel out of place if you don’t feel you measure up to what other people have or don’t have.
Remember, socializing is not a contest. You’re not there to be better or worse than anyone else in the room. It doesn’t matter who is having a better time, wearing fancier clothes, or seems to be socializing more than you are. All you need to concern yourself with is the conversations you’re having.
Read this for more in-depth advice: How To Stop Comparing Yourself To Others
4. Attend social functions with people you’re familiar with.
One way to tone down social awkwardness is to attend with a person that you’re familiar with. A friendly face can be a welcome reprieve when you are mingling with new people.
Just make your way over to your friend when you start to feel overwhelmed or awkward and take a few minutes to just unwind before you dive back in.
A mixed group of acquaintances and strangers can also be a great place to keep working on your social skills and smooth out those awkward feelings.
Don’t pass up these opportunities if they present themselves! An invitation to a gathering of your friends with some of their friends can allow you to practice.
This works even better if you make some friends who are more outgoing and socially skilled. You can learn a lot from watching how other people socialize with each other and increase your own comfort level.
5. Pay someone a genuine compliment.
A genuine compliment is a great way to initiate a conversation with a new person. Many people will appreciate the compliment, and it allows you to engage in conversation by asking additional questions.
If you like their jacket, you can ask them where they got the jacket, what they like about it, what they don’t like about it, and before you know it… you’re in a conversation!
Genuine compliments are also beneficial in that they can provide a cutoff point to discontinue or shift a conversation as well. There is a definitive end to that conversation when you’ve covered all the relevant information about the compliment.
The compliment serves as the icebreaker, but after you can suggest that it’s time to grab a piece of birthday cake or pick other questions to ask. How do you know the hosts? Are you from around here? What are you passionate about?
6. Treat socialization as an experiment.
Every time you socialize is an opportunity to practice and develop your skills.
Treat your socialization like an experiment. Go in with your strategy and test it out to see what feels comfortable and what doesn’t.
Different approaches will feel more comfortable than others for you. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution because everyone has their own tolerances, likes, and dislikes.
Giving yourself permission and the freedom to find yours and know that you can always adapt in the next experiment is freeing.
It’s like asking someone out on a date. Yes, it can be awkward and nerve-wracking, but the more you do it, the more you realize that the stakes really aren’t that high. It’s just a small conversation and question that you can have several times over.
Does it hurt to hear a no and be rejected? That depends on how much you invest into the answer. It’s much easier to accept a no if you leave your expectations behind.
You just ask. And if the answer is no, then you can use whatever you learned the next time you want to ask someone out.
7. Seek out professional help.
Everyone experiences social awkwardness at some point. It may be because of unfamiliar people or a stressful situation. But it really shouldn’t stop you from being able to take any action at all.
If you find yourself completely overwhelmed by socializing, shutting down, or avoiding socialization altogether, then you may be suffering from a social anxiety disorder.
Do reach out to a certified mental health professional if you feel like you need help (this link will allow to you speak to someone online). Social awkwardness should not prevent you from living your life. There is help that can work for you.
You may also like:
- The Socially Awkward Person’s Guide To Dating
- 10 Confidence Hacks For The Socially Awkward Person
- How To Talk About Yourself (+ 12 Good Things To Say)
- How To Make Small Talk: 8 No Bullsh*t Tips + 8 Starter Topics
- How To Keep A Conversation Going: 12 No Nonsense Tips!
- How To Get Over The Embarrassment Of An Awkward Moment