Dr. Cristina Davis
Do you ever feel like you have difficulty interacting socially with others? Have you ever felt like you were getting odd looks during social interactions, but were not sure why? Social awkwardness can feel uncomfortable to the individual experiencing it. Social awkwardness may prompt sweating or stuttering.
Sometimes your mind or brain may feel as though it freezes during social interactions, and you do not know how to respond, or the words will feel as though they physically cannot come out of your mouth even though your brain may be full of thoughts and words. Although social awkwardness feels uncomfortable, all people need social interaction with others to one degr ee or another.
Fulfilling the need for human connection is important to everyone, and yet, some people struggle to do just this. What happens when you find it especially difficult to meaningfully connect with those around you? How does this change your social interactions with others? What sort of things do you feel as though you can potentially change to improve your social interactions and lessen the social awkwardness you experience around others?
An individual that experiences social awkwardness may very much want to connect with others but may frequently feel as though there is a barrier to going deeper to develop close relationships.
It may be especially difficult to notice non-verbal cues or seemingly trivial social expectations which may be more obvious to those around them and depending on the socially awkward person’s insight, they may be aware of it too. People that experience social awkwardness may be less attuned to social graces and so they may respond differently than one might expect in social situations.
Misconceptions about introverts.
Sometimes, people may suggest that “socially awkward” equates to being introverted. However, this is a common misconception. Introversion and extraversion refer to how a person gains energy. Another way of thinking about this is what are the situations that leave a person feeling rejuvenated and refreshed. Some people gain their energy around other people (extroverts) while other people feel energized by spending time in solace (introverts).
Although time spent around others may be more taxing on introverts than extraverts, particularly for long periods and with larger groups of people, it does not necessarily mean that introverts are socially awkward. In addition, regardless of introversion or extraversion, everyone needs human connection and social interaction.
Have you ever heard the saying, “Slow and steady wins the race?” It makes sense to approach social awkwardness with this mindset. Too much at once will lead to a surge of anxiety, stumbling and bumbling over your words, and increasing reasons not to engage in social interactions, so do not do that. Do something different.
Go to a local coffee shop. While ordering or waiting for your beverage of choice, ask the barista how their day has been or whether the coffee shop has been busy that day while practicing frequent eye contact. Continue to do this once a day for two weeks, and every time, you may notice that the social interaction becomes less and less threatening and feels a bit more natural.
Once you get your coffee, sit down for ten minutes, and every day that you get coffee, increase it until you have reached an hour. While you sit, observe other people interacting with one another. Notice their facial expressions and body language. Pay attention to how each person takes turns talking, and the specific facial expressions and pauses in communication that signal to the other person that they are done talking for the moment.
Notice any social graces that occur during the duration of their visit including holding the door open for the other as they come/go; picking up an item that the other person dropped; or when one gets up from their seating area to get something (coffee, napkins, etc.), they may ask the other if they can get something for them as well. Remember these because you are going to use them to practice later.
While you maintain your daily coffee habit, consider the acquaintances that you come into contact with at school, work, or church and would be interested in developing a friendship. Be purposeful and intentional about asking them how they are and how their day is when you encounter them, aiming for 2-3 questions during each interaction.
During social interactions, continue to practice maintaining eye contact. Social interactions will help you to practice your social skills and decrease any anxiety or doubt you may experience. However, social interactions may also prompt anxiety or doubts and so you will have to be persistent and stick with it even when it gets tough.
Invite someone for a coffee date to meet at the place you usually frequent for coffee. In preparation, begin to think of questions that may prompt discussion, aiming to have 5-10 questions prepared and practiced while looking at yourself in a mirror. Pay attention to your facial expressions, and the tone and volume of your voice. Ask yourself if your voice and facial expressions convey confidence and comfortability, and if not, how come?
What specifically could you change so that your voice and facial expression convey confidence and comfort? Practice taking slow, deep breaths in-between asking questions. Continue to practice implementing the specific changes necessary to exhibit a demeanor of confidence and comfortability. If practiced and used in increasingly challenging situations, feelings of being socially awkward will soon dissipate.
The next step is to follow through on your coffee date. Confirm the date, time, and location the day before, ideally, at the coffee shop or location you have been practicing at since it will be familiar. Next, meet with the coffee date. When you meet, be prepared to sit, sip coffee (or tea), and enjoy their company.
Use the same questions you have been practicing in the mirror and engage them in conversation. Remember to maintain eye contact. Listen to their answers so you can respond in a meaningful way, not with a superficial “good” or “cool”. For example, “It sounds like you’re feeling ____ because ____”.
Once you have reached an hour, schedule another coffee date, and gracefully depart. Practice makes perfect. Initially, this may feel awkward, stiff, and difficult to navigate, but since you have already practiced several steps working up to the actual coffee date, you will be better equipped to tolerate the discomfort caused by the social interaction.
Next steps, continue to practice everything listed here, but change the location. Every time you accomplish one step and successfully manage the feelings prompted by your social awkwardness, engaging socially will become a little more tolerable and less and less awkward.
Indications that your persistence is paying off.
What indicates that your persistence is paying off? One positive piece of feedback you may receive is people may increasingly respond more favorably to you. You may also notice that others may begin to initiate social interactions with you. In addition, your feelings of discomfort may decrease over time. Others may invite you to a coffee date or another social event as well.
When positive feedback occurs, notice, and celebrate these moments. Many people struggle with a tendency to dismiss or will not acknowledge changes and positive feedback suggesting they have made progress. In addition, this tendency may lead a person to give up quickly when their work does not produce immediate or “perfect” results.
Remember the saying mentioned earlier in this article? “Slow and steady wins the race…” Keep practicing these things, and you will see some changes. When you do, notice, observe, and celebrate. You’re capable of doing this and if you stick to practicing and developing your social skills, you will make progress.
If you feel that you need additional help, reach out to a therapist today. There are various therapists and counselors with Seattle Christian Counseling that can help you develop the social skills necessary to conquer social awkwardness, increase social awareness, and develop more meaningful connections with others. Click here, select “locations” and find a counselor that is conveniently located near you.
“Ashamed”, Courtesy of Mehrpouya H, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Introverted”, Courtesy of Hadis Safari, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Coffee Klatch”, Courtesy of Roman Kraft, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Yay!”, Courtesy of Clay Banks, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
DISCLAIMER: THIS ARTICLE DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE
The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this article are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please contact one of our counselors for further information.