Overcoming Social Awkwardness
My best friend will, from time to time, refer to herself as a socially awkward penguin. This label is intended to be humorous, but it’s also rather thought-provoking. Some people really do have terrible social skills that preclude them from finding employment, establishing meaningful relationships, and just generally relating to others.
But this goes beyond the occasional guffaw we all make; those with poor people skills (or “soft” skills as they’re often referred) struggle to communicate and/or keep conversations going. Soft skills are less tangible than “hard” skills, which are the skills such as typing or data analysis that help you perform your job. However, they are no less important, because they determine how you manage your behavior and get along with others.
If you’re wondering whether you belong in the “socially awkward penguin” group, here are some sure-fire signs:
- You have social anxiety and without even recognizing why, your discomfort around other people may make them feel uncomfortable around you.
- You don’t understand social norms, you're not sure what do or say in social situations. You may struggle with where to place yourself in a room, who to talk to, or what you should talk about. For instance, you may not know what conversation topics are ideal for a particular situation or when to crack a joke.
- You are frequently misunderstood. Your comments or jokes come out differently than you intended, such as an intended compliment that actually insults.
- Your conversations don’t flow. You have trouble starting and ending conversations. You frequently deal with awkward silences.
- You have trouble making friends. Because you struggle to make conversation and don’t feel at ease around others, it's difficult to establish strong connections that lead to lasting relationships.
Of course, you can have poor people skills without being socially awkward. For instance, if you’re quick to anger or easily feel frustrated, it’s likely that others perceive you as a hothead. According to the Penn Behavioral Health Corporate Services, emotional outbursts are especially damaging in the workplace; they threaten coworkers and colleagues and can result in low productivity. Similarly, if you have a habit of becoming impatient or giving up, others will see you as unreliable.
Luckily, you can overcome all of this with a little practice. You can learn to be less shy, for instance, by talking to more strangers. It sounds odd, but experts recommend you go out and have short conversations at bars or sporting events to learn the habit of talking with others. Alternatively, you can watch how people around you respond to different situations, which will teach you some of the skills you lack.
It’s also important to make eye contact during interaction. This doesn’t mean staring someone down, but, instead, just watching them attentively so they feel acknowledged. And try going out to eat with more people, which provides the ideal time to find new and interesting topics to discuss. In this same vein, think about conversation topics before you go out. This will hopefully keep you from mundane conversation pieces about the weather. During the discussion, ask questions that can naturally lead to other topics.
Don't Be Too Hard on Yourself
Remember that you won’t have amazing chemistry with every person you meet. Some interactions are quick and easy, allowing you to learn from them before moving on. But never go into a social situation thinking you have to be perfect. Try to go with the flow and have some fun. When you stop over-thinking situations, and monitor your reactions, you’ll have much more relaxed conversation.