Here’s my guide on how to stop being socially awkward. I felt like I was born an awkward person and worked for years to be socially savvy. Here’s my blueprint for how to avoid social awkwardness for good.
This article is for you if…
- Social settings make you nervous
- Your jokes didn’t come out like you wanted them to
- People often misunderstand your intentions
- Your conversations don’t really flow like you would want them to
- You feel like people don’t take you seriously or sometimes even avoid you
If you say yes to several of these, then great! You’re just as socially awkward as I was and this guide contains what you need for change to happen.
Here’s what I’ll go through:
- 1. People who “don’t care” usually aren’t socially awkward. We can learn something from them
- 2. Ask more questions to take the focus off you
- 3. Step off your imaginary stage
- 4. What would a confident person do?
- 5. To not be socially awkward, slow everything down
- 6. Reality check – “How would I react if someone else did what I did?”
- 7. Use “Shift of Attentional Focus” to know what to say and stop being self-conscious and socially awkward
- 8. Don’t force yourself to stand out or be funny
- 9. If you feel like avoiding social events, remember that practice is the only way to not be socially awkward
- 10. Avoid these subjects
- 11. Visualize yourself as a socially savvy person
- 12. Pay attention to social cues
- 13. Balance how much you are talking.
- 14. Improve your self-esteem. It’s often the core reason why we feel socially awkward.
You probably know someone who doesn’t care much what others think or how to be. Ever noticed how they don’t end up in social awkwardness? How can it be that people who care LESS are BETTER socially?
It’s because they don’t stress about what others think; when you aren’t stressed, you are more relaxed and pleasant to be around.
That was a game-changer for me: When I stopped caring too much, I became less socially awkward.
But how do you stop caring in practice?
Remind yourself of the following: It’s OK if people don’t like you. It’s OK if people don’t approve of you. It’s OK if people think you’re boring. You just exist and enjoy your time.
Remind yourself of this before social settings, and see what it does to your awkwardness and social life.
2. Ask more questions to take the focus off you
When you know that you’re in the “risk-zone” of doing awkward things, move the focus away from you by asking sincere questions about others.
When I did, it gave me a well-needed break to calm my nerves and it made me more relaxed and less socially awkward.
Ask SIMPLE questions. (If you try to figure out smart ones all the time you might just lock up)
“What do you do?”
“Where are you from”?
“What have you been up to today?”
“But David, I’ve tried asking questions and people only respond with yes or no!”
That’s because people don’t know if you’re just being polite and actually want to know. You show that you actually want to know by asking follow-up questions.
“What’s that like to work in textile?”
“How does that place compare to here?”
And then you share a little bit about yourself, so the conversation doesn’t get one-sided. More about that in my guide on how to start a conversation.
3. Step off your imaginary stage
I used to think that in social settings, I was on some sort of stage where people would either judge me or that I had to entertain them to not come off as boring.
I felt like I had to perform.
This gave me performance anxiety and I usually made a fool out of myself because I tried to stand out.
Here’s the thing: Nobody wants you to perform. People just want to have a good time and they don’t focus on you more than you focus on any other random person in the room.
You don’t need others approval.
Here’s the irony:
When you STOP looking for other’s approval, people notice that you’re not needy, and they give you automatic approval. This is how the Approval Paradox works: People who don’t care too much what others think are often more popular.
The next time you feel like you need to perform, remember this: Step off the stage. IT’S OK TO BE BORING.
4. What would a confident person do?
Here’s a trick a behavioral scientist taught me once: Imagine that a confident person did that awkward thing you just did. How would the confident person react?
They probably wouldn’t care at all. If a confident person doesn’t care, why should you care?
When we care less, we take pressure off ourselves and we stop being as awkward.
Ever noticed that when you’re around others, it’s like your body speeds up?
- Your thoughts start racing
- You start talking faster
- You’re on your toes to not “mess up” and try to respond as fast as you can
When you do, remember this: The faster you drive, the easier is it to end up in the ditch.
In other words – S L O W D O W N.
- Talk slower
- Take a break and think a second before you respond
- Walk slower
I consciously practiced to slow down my movement and conversation. It gave me time to think. And when I acted calmer, everyone else felt calmer, too. It stopped being awkward.
6. Reality check – “How would I react if someone else did what I did?”
Whenever I said something awkward, I didn’t know if it was REALLY that awkward, or just awkward in my head.
Here’s how to make a reality check: Imagine seeing someone else saying or doing what you just did. How would you react?
When I asked myself that questions, I often realized that “Oh, I just wouldn’t care at all – if I would even notice”.
Whenever you did something awkward, remember this: “REALITY CHECK. How would I react if someone else did what I just did?”
(Therapists call this method of changing views “turning the tables”)
You probably don’t remember when others do something awkward. Most often you don’t even notice, and I’m sure you don’t hold them accountable for it.
It’s reasonable to assume that others won’t think any different of you.
Whenever I walked up to a group of people, I started worrying about what they would think of me.
“Will people think I’m weird?”
“Will they think I’m boring?”
“What if they don’t like me?”
“WHERE DO I PUT MY HANDS?”
What if there was a way you could keep your focus on others? Then, you would be less self-conscious and it would be easier to come up with conversation topics.
I learned that therapists teach their clients something called “Shift of Attentional Focus”.
In essence, their clients are instructed to constantly focus on the conversation at hand (or, when they enter a room, focus on the people in it) rather than themselves.
“But David, if I’m not in my own head, I can’t come up with things to say!”
That’s what I thought, too. But here’s the thing: When we focus fully on the conversation, questions pop up in our head much like when we focus fully on a good movie. “Why doesn’t he tell her how he feels?” “Who is the real murderer?”
Like that, we want to focus on the people in the room or the conversation we’re having.
“Oh, she went to Thailand! What was that like? How long was she there?”
“He looks well-off. I wonder what he does!”
This was a game changer for me. Here’s why:
When I focused outward I became less self-conscious, it was easier for me to come up with things to say, my conversation flow improved, and I became less socially awkward.
Whenever you interact with anyone, practice shifting your attentional focus like that!
8. Don’t force yourself to stand out or be funny
Ever told a joke that got laughs, so you wanted more laughs and tried to come up with more jokes? That was the trap I ended up in again and again.
I had to re-learn to NOT try to stand out or be funny all the time. It took me time to understand, but being funny or standing out all the time isn’t even likable. What’s likable is to
- Show liking and appreciation to others
- To build rapport (Meaning to speak as much as others, have the same energy levels as others, and so on.)
- Be an attentive listener.
(This isn’t something I’ve come up with. Research shows that these are the 3 factors that make us likable.)
Instead of trying to stand out and be funny, I’ve learned to focus on those 3 factors instead. The result? Less socially awkward, more likable.
No one’s born socially skilled. We all have to learn it, but some get less practice than others. I, for example, grew up in the countryside as an only child so I got less training. Naturally, that made me more socially awkward: I was less socially experienced.
If you’re socially awkward, it doesn’t mean that you should avoid socializing, but the opposite: It means that you should spend MORE time socializing.
Say yes to invites. Join your friends. (Even if you’re afraid that it’s a pity invite.) Do anything you can to practice socializing as much as you can. That’s how I became great at it, and that how you’ll become great at it as well.
10. Avoid these subjects
Socializing and making conversation is a way for people to relax and have a good time. We want to help them do that – we don’t want to provoke them or force them to argue.
(To be fair, that can be fun some times, but we don’t want to make it a habit.)
Because of that, don’t talk about touchy subjects.
Avoid R.A.P.E topics:
DO talk about F.O.R.D topics:
Try this right now: See yourself as a socially savvy person who can talk to anyone in a calm and confident way. Spend a minute visualizing this in front of you as vividly as you can. You can even close your eyes for a minute.
— Pause music —
Have you visualized it? Good!
Now, what keeps you from becoming that person? You know what that person’s like, so why not become it?
There is a confident, socially savvy person inside of you. You just glimpsed it. I made this visualization whenever I was on way to a social setting, and it made me realize that I did, in fact, know how to act in a socially savvy way.
Practice picking up on social cues.
Here are some powerful cues that someone doesn’t like what you’re saying or wants to wrap up the conversation:
- Their feet are pointing away from you
- They start doing something else
- They move further away from you
- They start looking around the room
Socially savvy people are good at picking up on these cues and giving people a way out: In a nice voice, ask “Maybe you were on your way somewhere?” and gauge their reaction.
Here I go more into detail on how to see if someone wants to talk to you.
13. Balance how much you are talking.
If you talk one on one with someone, you want to spend roughly half the time talking and half the time listening. If you’re in a group of 3, you want to spend one-third of the time talking and two-thirds of the time listening.
I’ve always been that person who talked too much, and that only alienated people. Likewise, if you never say anything, that’s awkward too.
Keep tabs on how much you are talking compared to others. If you notice that you talk too much, ask more questions and be an engaged listener. If you talk too little, dare to share a bit more about yourself.
We often think we’re more socially awkward than we really are. In reality, we just have low self-esteem.
When our self-esteem improves, we don’t care about other’s approval as much and we don’t worry about being socially awkward.
The bad news: Self-esteem exercises like self-affirmations don’t work very well. (New studies have shown this)
The good news? Research has shown what really works to increase self-esteem:
To put up goals in life and work toward those goals.
This gives us a sense of meaning and an internal compass. If others don’t like us – so what? It doesn’t affect the journey toward our goal.
My goal was to live in NYC one day. Today, I live here, and I feel a sense of accomplishment. But even before I moved here, I had a sense of direction that helped me through life.
“I don’t need other’s approval, because I have something else that defines me”.
What’s a goal YOU can set up?
Whenever you worry about what others think of you, focus on that goal! That’ll help you finally crush your social awkwardness.