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Published on March 7, 2019

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

Reference

More by this author

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 May 21, 2019

How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

For all our social media bravado, we live in a society where communication is seen less as an art, and more as a perfunctory exercise. We spend so much time with people, yet we struggle with how to meaningfully communicate.

If you believe you have mastered effective communication, scan the list below and see whether you can see yourself in any of the examples:

Example 1

You are uncomfortable with a person’s actions or comments, and rather than telling the individual immediately, you sidestep the issue and attempt to move on as though the offending behavior or comment never happened.

You move on with the relationship and develop a pattern of not addressing challenging situations. Before long, the person with whom you are in relationship will say or do something that pushes you over the top and predictably, you explode or withdraw completely from the relationship.

In this example, hard-to-speak truths become never- expressed truths that turn into resentment and anger.

Example 2

You communicate from the head and without emotion. While what you communicate makes perfect sense to you, it comes across as cold because it lacks emotion.

People do not understand what motivates you to say what you say, and without sharing your feelings and emotions, others experience you as rude, cold or aggressive.

You will know this is a problem if people shy away from you, ignore your contributions in meetings or tell you your words hurt. You can also know you struggle in this area if you find yourself constantly apologizing for things you have said.

Example 3

You have an issue with one person, but you communicate your problem to an entirely different person.

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The person in whom you confide lacks the authority to resolve the matter troubling you, and while you have vented and expressed frustration, the underlying challenge is unresolved.

Example 4

You grew up in a family with destructive communication habits and those habits play out in your current relationships.

Because you have never stopped to ask why you communicate the way you do and whether your communication style still works, you may lack understanding of how your words impact others and how to implement positive change.

If you find yourself in any of the situations described above, this article is for you.

Communication can build or decimate worlds and it is important we get it right. Regardless of your professional aspirations or personal goals, you can improve your communication skills if you:

  • Understand your own communication style
  • Tailor your style depending on the needs of the audience
  • Communicate with precision and care
  • Be mindful of your delivery, timing and messenger

1. Understand Your Communication Style

To communicate effectively, you must understand the communication legacy passed down from our parents, grandparents or caregivers. Each of us grew up with spoken and unspoken rules about communication.

In some families, direct communication is practiced and honored. In other families, family members are encouraged to shy away from difficult conversations. Some families appreciate open and frank dialogue and others do not. Other families practice silence about substantive matters, that is, they seldom or rarely broach difficult conversations at all.

Before you can appreciate the nuance required in communication, it helps to know the familial patterns you grew up with.

2. Learn Others Communication Styles

Communicating effectively requires you to take a step back, assess the intended recipient of your communication and think through how the individual prefers to be communicated with. Once you know this, you can tailor your message in a way that increases the likelihood of being heard. This also prevents you from assuming the way you communicate with one group is appropriate or right for all groups or people.

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If you are unsure how to determine the styles of the groups or persons with whom you are interacting, you can always ask them:

“How do you prefer to receive information?”

This approach requires listening, both to what the individuals say as well as what is unspoken. Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson noted that the best communicators are also great listeners.

To communicate effectively from relationship to relationship and situation to situation, you must understand the communication needs of others.

3. Exercise Precision and Care

A recent engagement underscored for me the importance of exercising care when communicating.

On a recent trip to Ohio, I decided to meet up with an old friend to go for a walk. As we strolled through the soccer park, my friend gently announced that he had something to talk about, he was upset with me. His introduction to the problem allowed me to mentally shift gears and prepare for the conversation.

Shortly after introducing the shift in conversation, my friend asked me why I didn’t invite him to the launch party for my business. He lives in Ohio and I live in the D.C. area.

I explained that the event snuck up on me, and I only started planning the invite list three weeks before the event. Due to the last-minute nature of the gathering, I opted to invite people in the DMV area versus my friends from outside the area – I didn’t want to be disrespectful by asking them to travel on such short notice.

I also noted that I didn’t want to be disappointed if he and others declined to come to the event. So I played it safe in terms of inviting people who were local.

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In the moment, I felt the conversation went very well. I also checked in with my friend a few days after our walk, affirmed my appreciation for his willingness to communicate his upset and our ability to work through it.

The way this conversation unfolded exemplified effective communication. My friend approached me with grace and vulnerability. He approached me with a level of curiosity that didn’t put me on my heels — I was able to really listen to what he was saying, apologize for how my decision impacted him and vow that going forward, I would always ask rather than making decisions for him and others.

Our relationship is intact, and I now have information that will help me become a better friend to him and others.

4. Be Mindful of Delivery, Timing and Messenger

Communicating effectively also requires thinking through the delivery of the message one intends to communicate as well as the appropriate time for the discussion.

In an Entrepreneur.com column, VIP Contributor Deep Patel, noted that persons interested in communicating well need to master the art of timing. Patel noted,[1]

“Great comedians, like all great communicators, are able to feel out their audience to determine when to move on to a new topic or when to reiterate an idea.”

Communicating effectively also requires thoughtfulness about the messenger. A person prone to dramatic, angry outbursts should never be called upon to deliver constructive feedback, especially to people whom they do not know. The immediate aftermath of a mass shooting is not the ideal time to talk about the importance of the Second Amendment rights.

Like everyone else, I must work to ensure my communication is layered with precision and care.

It requires precision because words must be carefully tailored to the person with whom you are speaking.

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It requires intentionality because before one communicates, one should think about the audience and what the audience needs in order to hear your message the way you intended it to be communicated.

It requires active listening which is about hearing verbal and nonverbal messages.

Even though we may be right in what we say, how we say it could derail the impact of the message and the other parties’ ability to hear the message.

Communicating with care is also about saying things that the people in our life need to hear and doing so with love.

The Bottom Line

When I left the meeting with my dear friend, I wondered if I was replicating or modeling this level of openness and transparency in the rest of my relationships.

I was intrigued and appreciative. He’d clearly thought about what he wanted to say to me, picked the appropriate time to share his feedback and then delivered it with care. He hit the ball out of the park and I’m hopeful we all do the same.

More Articles About Effective Communication

Featured photo credit: Kenan Buhic via unsplash.com

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