Even if we’re introverted by nature, we still like to make connections with other human beings, and social awkwardness can make this incredibly difficult to do. We’d like to enjoy our social interactions with strangers or casual acquaintances, but instead they leave us feeling embarrassed and uncomfortable. If you suffer from social awkwardness, you know how painful it can be and how much it can limit your social experiences. Chances are that you’ve been struggling with your anxiety in social settings for quite some time, and the problem may seem so big that you’ve given up hope of it ever changing. It’s certainly true that you can’t overcome the problem all at once. But you can deconstruct it and defeat it one moment at a time by exposing yourself to the situations you fear and adopting strategies that will help you navigate them just a little bit better. Transcendence of your social awkwardness won’t happen quickly but it can and will happen if you’re willing to take it slow and accept gradual progress — which is a huge step up from making no progress at all. Here are 10 ways you can alter your approach that may help you move beyond your awkwardness in social settings:
- Before you attend a party or another social event, practice some conversation-starters with friends or family members. They can give you valuable feedback that will help you develop better communication skills.
- Carefully observe people you know who are good at socializing as a way to learn the “tricks of the trade.” You won’t want to copy them completely, but you’ll at least have a better idea of what a healthy social interaction is supposed to look like.
- Enroll in self-development classes and read self-help books for inspiration and practical advice. Reading books and taking courses won’t make your social awkwardness vanish, but they will leave you feeling more hopeful, optimistic and empowered.
- It is generally not a good idea to rehearse anticipated conversations in your mind ahead of time. Real-world dialogue never follows the script, and if you rehearse you’ll be tongue-tied as soon as the conversation takes an unexpected turn. Good conversations are spontaneous and you must learn to trust in your ability to respond appropriately regardless of where the discussion goes.
- If possible, ask a friend (preferably an outgoing one) to attend the next social event with you. Not so you can hide behind them, but as a way to increase your comfort level by giving you moral support in case you struggle — which you’ll be less likely to do if you have someone you trust to back you up.
- When you approach new people, or when they approach you, start with the basics. Look them in the eye, offer your hand and tell them your name. With such a straightforward beginning, it’s virtually impossible to get off on the wrong foot.
- Listen very carefully to what the other person is saying, and ask questions based on what you hear. People like to talk about themselves and asking questions gives them the chance to do so.
- Don’t overcompensate for your social awkwardness by trying to be overly friendly, by telling a lot of jokes or volunteering too much personal information too fast. You have to be yourself first and foremost, not someone who you think others want you to be.
- If you don’t understand or don’t hear something someone tells you, don’t just nod and smile and pretend you do. This is a mistake socially anxious people often make because they’re trying too hard to be liked. Just be honest and ask the other person to repeat what they’ve said or explain it more clearly. Your conversation partner will appreciate your honesty.
- Rather than suffering alone, consult with a psychologist or psychiatrist about your social awkwardness. They will help you explore the reasons behind it and make suggestions that can help you manage your discomfort more effectively.
Social Awkwardness and the Risk of Substance Abuse
Unfortunately, many people try to cope with social awkwardness and anxiety by turning to drugs and alcohol. This won’t solve the problem and it can lead to addiction — or worse. There is no shortcut to overcoming social anxiety, but it can be conquered with patience, consistent effort and a willingness to try safe and sensible strategies.