We have all had awkward social situations. Every. Single. One. of. Us. It just happens. Some people are naturally more social and more at-ease around people than others. Some people pick up on body language better than others. If you find yourself struggling to fit in and wiping sweaty palms at the thought of a social gathering, let’s take a look at how to be less socially awkward.
How to Be Less Socially Awkward by Improving Your Social Skills
Social skills are just that – skills. Any skill can be learned. Learning how to be less socially awkward can be as simple as learning a few additional social skills and practicing them. Let’s begin at the beginning. When you see someone that you want to talk to
- Make eye contact
- Offer a greeting
Pay attention to how your greeting was received. We communicate a great deal through body language. 70 to 80 percent of our communication is non-verbal. That’s a lot!
Being less Socially Awkward Means Reading Body Language
Body language is subtle. Most people register it without realizing it. For example, if someone is constantly tense, they may communicate that tenseness to others. It’s in the subtle pulling at the corners of the mouth, the way they hold their body, have difficulty sitting still, or the tone of their voice.
There are many different types of non-verbal communication.
Let’s talk about different ways that your greeting might be received and what it means.
- Acknowledgement of greeting (smile, nod, etc) and then looking away – I’m happy to see you, but can’t or don’t want to talk right now.
- Returning greeting and turning to look at you with a smile – this is an invite to come talk further.
- No acknowledgement – It could mean they didn’t hear you, or it could mean that they do not recognize you. Either way this is a the body language for “do not disturb.”
- Glare, snort, headshake, and then looking away – this person is either mad or does not like you. Steer clear unless you are prepared for hostility.
How to be Less Socially Awkward in Conversation
Now that you have found someone to talk to (the person that returned your greeting with a smile and sustained look) we reach the next step of initiating a conversation. This is usually small talk, especially if you do not know the person well. It’s easier if the person is a friend because you are more comfortable with them. Try to find a common interest. Start with the obvious – you are both in the same place. Do you both have kids, pets, like coffee, work at the same place, etc?
A person’s favorite topic is themselves. Try to get the person talking about themselves and engage in active listening. Be fully present and try to remember what they tell you. Give compliments freely. People like to be around other people that are positive and encouraging. Ask questions, but not to the point of making the other person feel interrogated.
If you feel socially awkward, this is also more of a “safe” area because you are not the one talking.
How to be Less Socially Awkward Ending the Conversation
Now we are back to body language. People will give verbal and non-verbal cues that they need to go. If the person keeps looking at their watch or seems to be in a rush, they probably need to go and the best thing to do is gracefully end the conversation. People might say things that are closing pleasantries like “it was nice talking to you.” They may also start summarizing the conversation or make references to other work.
10 Quick Tips for How to Be Less Socially Awkward
Yes, a simple smile can do wonders. It makes you more approachable and friendlier. You are sending a clear signal, “I’m a nice person. I want to talk to you.” For me, it also makes me feel more confident.
There are a few quick things that you can do to make you feel more confident. Sometimes you have to fake it at first. Take a deep breath, straighten your posture, and dive in!
3. Take a Friend
If you have a friend that is naturally more outgoing and likes social situations more than you do, take them along or hang out with them. You can smile and nod while you contribute a few things to the conversation, but let them do most of the talking. This also helps to overcome initial shyness when faced with a new situation or people.
A good listener is a rare thing these days. Many people will talk for a long time if they have someone to talk to that is a good listener. Pay attention to what they are saying. Nod, ask questions for clarification, summarize from time to time. Offer compliments. Listen with empathy.
5. Use Good Manners
Good manners never go out of style. People notice when you are polite and courteous. It’s a gesture that conveys respect and consideration.
6. Keep the Conversation Going
Silence can be good or it can feel very uncomfortable depending on the conversation and who you’re with. For example, if I’m with my husband, I have always found our silences to be very comfortable. We are perfectly happy sitting beside one another and thinking our own thoughts after we have talked a subject out.
If you’re with friends or you are trying to talk to a new group of people, silence can be awkward and unpleasant. Try the following tips from Business Insider to keep the conversation going:
- Ask open-ended questions
- Blurt – say what’s on your mind as long as it’s not totally off-topic
- Let the other person end the silence – it’s as uncomfortable for them as it is for you!
- Think about some of your favorite topics and what you could say about them. If you are totally drawing blank, good safe topics to talk about usually include family, work, hobbies. Avoid overly personal questions, politics, and religion when you meet someone for the first time.
7. End the Conversation Gracefully
Just as important as starting and engaging in conversation is ending the conversation – without feeling socially awkward. Conversations have a start, then peak, and then gradually lull and fizzle out. The last part is where you need to make a polite exit. There are many great ways to end a conversation gracefully. Some of them are very subtle and include body language. Others are something that you can say. These include things like:
- Thanking them for the chat. ” I need to go, but I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you!”
- Point your toes towards the door, start slowly backing up – non-verbal cues that most people pick up on.
- Mention future plans. “Hope you have a great time with your family at the beach!”
- Summarize the last thing they said. “Your new house sounds amazing! I’m sure you’ll get it fixed up just the way you want it soon. Wish I could chat more, but I have to run!”
- Let them get back to what they were doing before. “I’ll let you get back to your shopping. Great catching up with you!”
8. Learn to Laugh at Yourself
When I was a teen, awkward moments used to make me want to hide and cry. I badly wanted to be “cool.” (Whatever that is. I still don’t think I’ve figured it out!) If I had an awkward moment, or said something out of turn, everyone else would laugh and I would be fighting back tears and trying to hide it.
Once, when I was a teen, a large group of us were at a fast-food restaurant. I stood up, banged my head on the overhanging plant. Reflexively (and because I was very tired) I looked up and said “Oh, excuse me.” The rest of the table burst out in laughter. I wanted to crawl under the table. Everyone else thought it was funny. I thought it was humiliating.
If apologizing to a plant is the worst mistake I made, then I was doing ok. (There were worse, of course.) I got a commemorative award for that at the Marching Band Banquet along with the story told to a large crowd assembled.
When I learned to laugh at myself, it took a lot of pressure off. I think the only ones that remember that instance now are myself and my best friend, who I’m fairly sure “nominated” me for the award. No one thought any worse of me for it. It was just a little funny thing that happened.
When you do have a socially awkward moment, such as my apology to the plant above, stop replaying it in your head over and over. I was still worrying about how it looked and how silly I felt about the whole thing a week later. Everyone else had moved on. It had absolutely zero long-term consequences.
If you do find that you have had a socially awkward moment, don’t over analyze it. It will be ok. Just keep trying. Keep talking to people. Keep practicing. You do not have to be perfect.
10. Be Sincere. Be Kind. – To Others and To Yourself
One of the classiest and least socially awkward things you can do is to be kind and to be authentically you. That authenticity part is hard sometimes because it opens us up to rejection. You may not be everyone’s cup of tea. That’s ok. I’m not everyone’s cup of tea either.
Maya Angelou said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.“
Even if you do have an awkward moment, people will forget what you said or what you did. If you’re kind and sincere – they will never forget how you made them feel.
While your at it, be kind to you as well. Forgive yourself when you mess up. Nobody’s perfect.
Related: Why Should I Choose Kindness?
Pick Your Time, Your Place, and Your People to Socialize
You need real world interaction with people. Every single one of us, no matter how introverted or extroverted needs some sort of social interaction. There is a reason that solitary confinement is a punishment. People don’t do well in isolation.
Pick your times and your people when it comes to socialization. There are some environments that I do not want to be in. Ever. There are other places that used to be a stretch (like the gym) but that I am comfortable at now and even look forward to going. I look forward to socializing at church and talking with friends and family.
Super large gatherings, such as concerts, and sports events are not my thing. They may be yours and that’s ok! I prefer smaller groups. Pick your time, your place, and your people to socialize.
Recognize and Get Help if You Have Social Anxiety
Feeling socially awkward from time to time, or feeling shy is one thing. Being overcome with social anxiety to the point that you have an intense fear of talking or interacting with strangers, fearing that you may look anxious to others, and other symptoms that interfere with your quality of life is another thing.
Mayo Clinic has a complete description of the symptoms of social anxiety, which is much more than simply feeling a bit socially awkward from time to time.
I strongly encourage you to seek help if you need it. According to Web MD, more than 40 million adults in the US have some sort of anxiety disorder. There is no shame in seeking help when and if you need it.
The Last Thing You Need to Know About How to Be Less Socially Awkward
You are different from anyone else on the face of the planet. Not one of us is exactly the same as another person. That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? The Lord gave us all different gifts too. If you are struggling with how to be less socially awkward, or if you are struggling with talking to other people or relating to them, realize that social skills are skills that can be learned. Pay attention to body language and nonverbal cues. Take a chattier friend with you, and choose where you socialize.
Above all, keep practicing and be kind to yourself and others. Don’t overanalyze. Try to keep your focus on the other person and show genuine interest. Most people, want to be listened to and understood – just like you.
Do you have questions or a great tip on how to be less socially awkward? Leave me a comment below!