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How to Stop Being Socially Awkward and Start Shining at Work

How to Stop Being Socially Awkward and Start Shining at Work

Have you ever gone in for a handshake only to be met with an awkward high-five and ended up casually styling it out and cringing inside? Or had that uneasy anxiety creep over you in a meeting that everyone is looking at you – but you’re not sure why? Have you ever made a badly thought through comment that was met with silence and had no option but to wait for the socially awkward moment to pass?

You’re not alone.

I know I have and so have many of the clients I’ve worked with over the last seven years. I help people to be creative and think differently to get the results they want. A lot of my work involves helping people make change happen, overcome dips in confidence and to be more resilient and brush off the socially awkward moments.

In fact, I’ve helped so many people manage socially awkward moments that I’d like to share my proven tips on how to not be socially awkward and shine at work.

Are You Socially Awkward?

Some of the characteristics of being socially awkward include feeling shy, getting anxious and insecure around people, feelings of social inadequacies, fear of being judged or rejected by others and the inability to be good at conversations.

If you’ve ever felt that you want the floor to swallow you up, or been afraid to speak up in a meeting or kept quiet when you knew the answer, or if you’ve let your inner critic jeopardize you by telling you that you’re no good and you’re going to get found out, read on and learn my 13 killer tips to quit feeling socially awkward and shine at work. Read to the end and you’re in for a treat!

13 Tips to Stop Being Socially Awkward at Work

1. Shift Your Mindset

Stop labeling yourself as ‘socially awkward’. It might be your view on how you feel, but it probably isn’t how other people see you.

Nothing is going to send you into a socially awkward spiral faster than berating yourself for the way other people may or may not see you.

So stop telling yourself that you are socially awkward and start telling yourself that you’re an excellent confident person.

2. Ask Yourself ‘Why?’

Why are you having these socially awkward feelings in the first place? Are you comparing yourself to others?

An excellent piece of advice that I heard recently was:

‘Don’t compare your inside to someone else’s outside – you will always lose.’

Consider the situations that make you feel awkward. Why do you feel awkward?

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For example, do you feel awkward at networking events? Why? Because you’re worried about what other people think? Why? Because people don’t understand what you do and lose interest?

Then you can think about how to describe what you do in a way that does spike peoples’ attention.

For example, when I told people I was a fundraiser for a charity, people would back away from me at networking events anxious that I was going to ask them for a donation.

So I changed what I said. I started talking about the impact of my work ‘protecting children from harm’ rather than my job title ‘fundraiser’ which felt much better and opened up conversations rather than closed them down.

Keep asking yourself why to get to the root cause of your anxiety. It might help to talk it through with a trusted friend or colleague. Then you can start to find solutions to shine.

3. Notice and Regulate Your Emotions

Start to notice your emotional response to a situation and begin to unpick why it’s making you feel socially awkward.

Take a step away and (as above) identify the root of your anxiety, then start to unpick the feeling, either on your own or I’d recommend you discuss it with someone you trust or even a professional coach or mentor.

4. Focus on the Other Person

We can often get stressed out about what people think about us. Stop thinking about it by focusing on them.

Be present. Put your phone away and give them your whole attention. Ask them lots of questions, then you don’t have space to think about what they think of you because you’re too busy thinking about them.

5. Listen

It sounds so simple and obvious yet so many of us are really bad at listening.

A lot of the time, we have partial attention; we’re so busy multi-tasking on our phones that we miss a lot of what goes on.

Focus on the other person and really listen. Show that you are listening by using ‘yes and’ at the beginning of sentences to build on the last thing they have said. Learn about active listening:

The Skill That Most People Don’t Have: Active Listening

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6. Focus on Growing and Learning

Look for opportunities in every situation, even the particularly painful ones that spike your anxiety and fill you with dread.

For example, if meetings cause you stress, before your next meeting ask yourself: ‘Is there any possible way in which this could actually turn out to be good?’ and ‘What can I learn from this situation?’

Find a positive answer. Then focus on that positive outcome. This will help to negate some of the social awkwardness you are feeling.

7. Practice Every Day

The best way to tackle anything that can feel big and overwhelming is to do something small every day that builds your confidence.

Like eating an elephant – how would you do it? In small chunks. (Well of course, I’m not really suggesting that you should eat an elephant.)

For example, say hello to the person at the bus stop, talk to the barista at the coffee shop, say hello and smile at the person on reception.

Build up every day with small steps and you’ll find you’re not as socially awkward as you think you are.

8. Ask for Help

If you’re feeling particularly stressed or daunted by an upcoming work event where you think your social awkwardness might get the better of you, then ask for help:

Afraid to Ask for Help? Change Your Outlook to Aim High!

Speak to trusted friends and colleagues – tell them how you are feeling. The chances are you won’t be alone!

9. Put Your Inner Critic Back in Its Box

That little voice that tells you you’re socially awkward and you should never be at a work event where you have to interact with people – call it out!

Tell that voice to shut up, tell it about the times when you enjoyed a conversation at a networking event or felt comfortable in a social situation. Find evidence to prove the voice wrong:

How to End Negative Self Talk and Reinvent Your Self Image

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10. Fake It Until You Make It

An oldie but a goodie and one that’s stuck around for so long because there’s a lot of truth to it!

How you look and behave and how you feel are closely linked. Dress like you mean success. If you turn up to the office or a meeting looking smart (and smart will mean different things in different contexts) you’re perceived differently than if you turn up looking ready for a casual Sunday afternoon.

11. Notice Your Body Language

A research published on the Harvard Business School Working Paper shows that your body language has an effect on your confidence.[1]

So before you go into the meeting room, stand tall, shoulders back and breathe slowly to get yourself into a confident frame of mind and body.

12. Make Friends with People More Socially Skilled Than You

They’ll introduce you to people and they’ll smooth the way, taking the pressure off you.

They’ll also lead on the small talk allowing you to chip in when you feel comfortable to do so.

13. Practice Silence

Many people fear awkward silences more than saying something socially awkward.

Ever feel like you’re dammed if you do and you’re dammed if you don’t!? Get over the fear by practicing holding back from speaking first in conversations.

Learn that you don’t have to fill every gap in a conversation with words. It might feel awkward to you but the other person might be thinking about what they’re going to say and they might even feel happy with silence.

Did you make it this far?

Remember that treat I mentioned at the beginning? Well, you’re in for a good one. Here are my extra 3 tips for making sure you shine at your next meeting, presentation or event!

My Top 3 Tips to Help You Shine at Work

1. Learn to Build Rapport with Anyone Quickly by Asking Open Questions.

Ask people about them (what’s your favorite topic? Yep – you got it ‘you’). Find things in common.

For example, a great taste in shoes, knowledge of a local area, a football club. It doesn’t have to be work related, you are looking for any topic where there is a common interest.

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We get results faster when we know, like and trust other people. And building rapport builds trust.

2. Have a Give First Attitude

Go to your meeting or networking event with the mindset of helping others; how can you add value to conversations? Can you help to unpick other people’s problems and be a go-to person when others need help?

Be the person that gives first, invests in relationships, asks and receives and builds on others ideas and conversations. Make ‘How can I help?’ one of your most used questions.

3. Take an Improv Class

I’ve saved my most valuable tip for the last in this list.

I took improv classes a few years ago, because I wanted to challenge myself to step outside of my comfort zone. It was scary and also one of the best things I’ve ever done. I use so much of the rules of improv in my working life.

Most social awkwardness is the result of overthinking. This overthinking is the result of fear. Improv forces you to be in the moment. Instead of thinking about yourself, you have to spend all your energy on listening, building on what others have said and making your troupe look good. And in turn, they do the same for you.

You can’t prepare or overthink because it all happens in the moment. If it all goes wrong, it doesn’t matter. No one is judging. You get to laugh at yourself.

The only failure in improv is not stepping up and giving it a go. You could argue that is also true of life and work.

The Bottom Line

You can stop being socially awkward and start making friends, joining meetings and making presentations with confidence if you start applying the tips you’ve learned from this article.

Trying to do everything at once can be overwhelming, so start small and practice daily. Gradually, you will notice that you’re becoming more confident in yourself and are getting more comfortable socializing.

More Resources About Effective Communication

Featured photo credit: Charles via unsplash.com

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Lucy Gower

Founder at Lucidity. Coach, trainer and consultant as well as a best-selling author and international speaker.

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Last Updated on December 4, 2020

How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

We all crave constructive feedback. We want to know not just what we’re doing well but also what we could be doing better.

However, giving and getting constructive feedback isn’t just some feel-good exercise. In the workplace, it’s part and parcel of how companies grow.

Let’s take a closer look.

Why Constructive Feedback Is Critical

A culture of feedback benefits individuals on a team and the team itself. Constructive feedback has the following effects:

Builds Workers’ Skills

Think about the last time you made a mistake. Did you come away from it feeling attacked—a key marker of destructive feedback—or did you feel like you learned something new?

Every time a team member learns something, they become more valuable to the business. The range of tasks they can tackle increases. Over time, they make fewer mistakes, require less supervision, and become more willing to ask for help.

Boosts Employee Loyalty

Constructive feedback is a two-way street. Employees want to receive it, but they also want the feedback they give to be taken seriously.

If employees see their constructive feedback ignored, they may take it to mean they aren’t a valued part of the team. Nine in ten employees say they’d be more likely to stick with a company that takes and acts on their feedback.[1]

Strengthens Team Bonds

Without trust, teams cannot function. Constructive feedback builds trust because it shows that the giver of the feedback cares about the success of the recipient.

However, for constructive feedback to work its magic, both sides have to assume good intentions. Those giving the feedback must genuinely want to help, and those getting it has to assume that the goal is to build them up rather than to tear them down.

Promotes Mentorship

There’s nothing wrong with a single round of constructive feedback. But when it really makes a difference is when it’s repeated—continuous, constructive feedback is the bread and butter of mentorship.

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Be the change you want to see on your team. Give constructive feedback often and authentically, and others will naturally start to see you as a mentor.

Clearly, constructive feedback is something most teams could use more of. But how do you actually give it?

How to Give Constructive Feedback

Giving constructive feedback is tricky. Get it wrong, and your message might fall on deaf ears. Get it really wrong, and you could sow distrust or create tension across the entire team.

Here are ways to give constructive feedback properly:

1. Listen First

Often, what you perceive as a mistake is a decision someone made for a good reason. Listening is the key to effective communication.

Seek to understand: how did the other person arrive at her choice or action?

You could say:

  • “Help me understand your thought process.”
  • “What led you to take that step?”
  • “What’s your perspective?”

2. Lead With a Compliment

In school, you might have heard it called the “sandwich method”: Before (and ideally, after) giving difficult feedback, share a compliment. That signals to the recipient that you value their work.

You could say:

  • “Great design. Can we see it with a different font?”
  • “Good thinking. What if we tried this?”

3. Address the Wider Team

Sometimes, constructive feedback is best given indirectly. If your comment could benefit others on the team, or if the person whom you’re really speaking to might take it the wrong way, try communicating your feedback in a group setting.

You could say:

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  • “Let’s think through this together.”
  • “I want everyone to see . . .”

4. Ask How You Can Help

When you’re on a team, you’re all in it together. When a mistake happens, you have to realize that everyone—not just the person who made it—has a role in fixing it. Give constructive feedback in a way that recognizes this dynamic.

You could say:

  • “What can I do to support you?”
  • “How can I make your life easier?
  • “Is there something I could do better?”

5. Give Examples

To be useful, constructive feedback needs to be concrete. Illustrate your advice by pointing to an ideal.

What should the end result look like? Who has the process down pat?

You could say:

  • “I wanted to show you . . .”
  • “This is what I’d like yours to look like.”
  • “This is a perfect example.”
  • “My ideal is . . .”

6. Be Empathetic

Even when there’s trust in a team, mistakes can be embarrassing. Lessons can be hard to swallow. Constructive feedback is more likely to be taken to heart when it’s accompanied by empathy.

You could say:

  • “I know it’s hard to hear.”
  • “I understand.”
  • “I’m sorry.”

7. Smile

Management consultancies like Credera teach that communication is a combination of the content, delivery, and presentation.[2] When giving constructive feedback, make sure your body language is as positive as your message. Your smile is one of your best tools for getting constructive feedback to connect.

8. Be Grateful

When you’re frustrated about a mistake, it can be tough to see the silver lining. But you don’t have to look that hard. Every constructive feedback session is a chance for the team to get better and grow closer.

You could say:

  • “I’m glad you brought this up.”
  • “We all learned an important lesson.”
  • “I love improving as a team.”

9. Avoid Accusations

Giving tough feedback without losing your cool is one of the toughest parts of working with others. Great leaders and project managers get upset at the mistake, not the person who made it.[3]

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You could say:

  • “We all make mistakes.”
  • “I know you did your best.”
  • “I don’t hold it against you.”

10. Take Responsibility

More often than not, mistakes are made because of miscommunications Recognize your own role in them.

Could you have been clearer in your directions? Did you set the other person up for success?

You could say:

  • “I should have . . .”
  • “Next time, I’ll . . .”

11. Time it Right

Constructive feedback shouldn’t catch people off guard. Don’t give it while everyone is packing up to leave work. Don’t interrupt a good lunch conversation.

If in doubt, ask the person to whom you’re giving feedback to schedule the session themselves. Encourage them to choose a time when they’ll be able to focus on the conversation rather than their next task.

12. Use Their Name

When you hear your name, your ears naturally perk up. Use that when giving constructive feedback. Just remember that constructive feedback should be personalized, not personal.

You could say:

  • “Bob, I wanted to chat through . . .”
  • “Does that make sense, Jesse?”

13. Suggest, Don’t Order

When you give constructive feedback, it’s important not to be adversarial. The very act of giving feedback recognizes that the person who made the mistake had a choice—and when the situation comes up again, they’ll be able to choose differently.

You could say:

  • “Next time, I suggest . . .”
  • “Try it this way.”
  • “Are you on board with that?”

14. Be Brief

Even when given empathetically, constructive feedback can be uncomfortable to receive. Get your message across, make sure there are no hard feelings, and move on.

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One exception? If the feedback isn’t understood, make clear that you have plenty of time for questions. Rushing through what’s clearly an open conversation is disrespectful and discouraging.

15. Follow Up

Not all lessons are learned immediately. After giving a member of your team constructive feedback, follow it up with an email. Make sure you’re just as respectful and helpful in your written feedback as you are on your verbal communication.

You could say:

  • “I wanted to recap . . .”
  • “Thanks for chatting with me about . . .”
  • “Did that make sense?”

16. Expect Improvement

Although you should always deliver constructive feedback in a supportive manner, you should also expect to see it implemented. If it’s a long-term issue, set milestones.

By what date would you like to see what sort of improvement? How will you measure that improvement?

You could say:

  • “I’d like to see you . . .”
  • “Let’s check back in after . . .”
  • “I’m expecting you to . . .”
  • “Let’s make a dent in that by . . .”

17. Give Second Chances

Giving feedback, no matter how constructive, is a waste of time if you don’t provide an opportunity to implement it. Don’t set up a “gotcha” moment, but do tap the recipient of your feedback next time a similar task comes up.

You could say:

  • “I know you’ll rock it next time.”
  • “I’d love to see you try again.”
  • “Let’s give it another go.”

Final Thoughts

Constructive feedback is not an easy nut to crack. If you don’t give it well, then maybe it’s time to get some. Never be afraid to ask.

More on Constructive Feedback

Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

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