Socially Awkward: Signs & Fixes (W/ Video)

socially awkward man says something off to a woman who has a "cringe" reaction

Are you afraid you might be socially awkward?

Or do you know you are and want to know how to stop being socially awkward?

In either case, you have come to the right place.
By the end of this article, you will know what is socially awkward and, if you are, you will know how to stop it.

social awkwardness
Sadly, social awkwardness is a leading cause of bullying

What’s Socially Awkward

Some guides online define socially awkward as a person who is nervous and creates embarrassing social situations.

But I hold a different view.
Some socially awkward people are not nervous.
They are not shy, they are not introverted, they are not embarrassed… And many of them have no idea they are being socially awkward in the first place.
Indeed the most disruptive social pariahs are confident and lout.

To include also those awkwardly confident fellas, this is my socially awkward definition:

Socially awkward is that person who makes social interactions difficult, painful, embarrassing, or generally unpleasant for the person or group of persons he is interacting with.

Socially Awkward Is Not Shy

People who have become good at spotting social dynamics can easily recognize socially awkward individuals.

But if you are still developing your emotional intelligence, then it’s easy getting confused and to think of “shy” as socially awkward and “outgoing” as socially competent.

But it’s not always that simple.
There are plenty of loud, outgoing, socially active people who are still very socially awkward -below there are examples-.
The difference indeed is not in how socially active they are but in their social intelligence.

socially isolated

Signs of Socially Awkward Individuals

Here are the signs and behaviors that characterize socially awkward individuals:

#1. Inadvertently Offends Others

Respecting oneself and others is the definition of assertive communication.
And it’s also one of the most basic and important rules of socialization.

Some of the worst socially awkward individuals fail to understand it and engage in one or more of the following:

  • Cut people off
  • Shout to be “better heard”
  • Hijack the conversation
  • Make mean jokes that embarrass people or make them cringe
  • Make politically incorrect jokes that are badly out of place
  • Verbally threaten or abuse others

In this example, Vaynerchuk lacks basic etiquette and breaks rapport with Seth Godin:

Aggression and disrespect not only make people and bystanders feel awkward but at the extreme end also potentially make them feel threatened.

#2. Spoils Group Conversation

Group conversations are the worst time to be socially awkward because among the group a silent, tacit agreement takes place among everyone.

And it’s this one:

Group: (thinking) This guy really doesn’t get it. When he is he leaving so we all can be cool again?

The socially awkward individual does the following to alienate everyone around him:

  • Monopolizes the conversation
  • Asks personal questions that put people on the spot
    • Ie.: “how much do you make”, “did you guys have sex” etc.
  • Fails to understand he is boring the group
  • Brings everyone down
  • Always brings the conversation back to him or his topic
  • Zeroes in on one person and leave all others out
socially awkward

I recently analyzed a “socially awkward” attempt to join a group conversation. 
And it’s from Ivanka Trump at the G20. 
Look at the video:

She is being awkward because she stands too far, jumps in too early, and displays many signals of nervousness.
You can read here the whole analysis.

Do This Instead:

Understand that group conversations are seldom about conveying meaning.

Group conversations are most often a “social lubricant” to collectively bond and/or have a good time.
And, finally, people don’t care about your stories and opinions that much, really.

Also read: a step-by-step guide to group conversations and effective conversation starters.

#3. Seeks Arguments (Instead of Consensus)

We all have a tendency to push back on ideas that run against our beliefs and cause us cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1957).
And we also all have a tendency to want to show off.

But while the socially smart resist the temptation and seek to understand and look for commonalities, the socially awkward sees it as an opportunity to show off his “superiority”.

The worst kind of socially awkward individual makes it about winning rather than socializing.
Here is an example from Family Guy:

Don’t be that ass

Example: Awkward Dating

The impact of seeking arguments is even more disastrous in dating scenarios:

Many years ago I went back to a girl’s place with a bottle of wine as we chatted and flirted along the way.

That must have been an easy one, right? Well, it should have, yes.

But when she aired her very left-wing opinions on genders, gypsies, and “integration policies” this dumbas* escalated what was a bonding conversation into a discussion (super un-sexy).

I started explaining why my ideas were “right”, and I wanted to prove it. I wanted to win.
Of course, there are no winners in those scenarios, only losers.
Rapport was shattered, romance was gone… And an icy awkwardness descended until I went home in my hand’s company soon after :).

Do This Instead

Switch your mindset from fact-finding, winning, and showing off to building people up, making friends, and finding commonalities.

#4. Breaks Rapport

Socially awkward individuals engage in social climbing and posturing without even realizing how obvious it is.

To show off their superiority one of their most powerful tools is “NO”.

A “NO” is a conversation stopper and communicates you fully disagree, that you know better and that the two of you are miles apart.

“I’m Better Than You” Awkwardness

A “NO” is also often a power move in the sense that it gives soft power and authority to the person using it. At the price, of course, of rapport, harmony, and conversational flow

I’ll give you a real-life example.
A friend of mine wanted to recruit me for a start-up she wanted to launch. We had a brief phone conversation, which went a bit like this:

Her: (…) That’s the idea basically
: I like it! Sounds like raising some capital for marketing will be needed to get early traction
Her: Not really, it’s more about partnerships.. 
Me: Yeah, that too, both are important. Maybe central Europe is a great market to start with
Her: No, it’s best to..

Power analysis: I don’t answer with “OK” because that would be an admission of submission.
I confirm what she says, then raise my opinion to her opinion’s level adding both are important.
Then I move to another topic to take the pressure off and avoid an escalation: I am trying not to make this awkward.

But again she keeps “NO-ing” me -probably 3 times during the conversation-.
With every NO she communicates that:

  1. I have no idea what I’m talking about;
  2. She knows more;
  3. She’s the one calling the shots.

Finally, she makes it extremely awkward because it becomes obvious that if we disagree so much… Why the hell is she even talking to me?

“You’re Wrong” Awkwardness

A “NO” is particularly terrible when people reach out to you with a compliment, a gift, or a bonding message.

Opening with a compliment, in certain situations, is an act of submission and vulnerability.
Receiving a “no” embarrasses us and makes us want to exit the conversation, wondering how could we have been so stupid in initiating it in the first place.

socially awkward text conversation

Do This Instead

What to do then?
Unless they are offensive, back-handed frenemy-style “compliments”, you always accept the compliment, even when you’re not too sure you fully deserve it.

#5. Is Visibly Nervous

Humans have mirror neurons that make us feel what others are feeling.

That means that when we are very nervous and when we feel awkward, chances are that we make others feel awkward as well.

Milton from Office Space is a good example of social awkwardness stemming from social anxiety:

The exceptions here are socially confident, socially smart, and high self-esteem individuals. They won’t be feeling awkward just because you feel awkward.
But of course, they are the exception (get Power University to become one)

Do this Instead

Well, obviously try to relax.
But if you can’t, don’t try to hide your nervousness. It might seem counter-intuitive but the awkwardness springs mostly from the friction between hiding it and pretending it’s not there while it’s actually plainly obvious to everyone.

When you can instead confess you are being nervous, you allow people to relax. And you show yourself for being vulnerably courageous.
It’s now in the open and he doesn’t even seem nearly as nervous and awkward after all.

On a date, there is nothing more chilling and relaxing than a woman admitting that she is a bit nervous.

Also read: how to overcome social anxiety.

#6. Lacks Emotional Intelligence

This is the catch-all of social awkwardness.

If you look at the video example from above, the awkwardness is all in failure to understand each other:

They are not communicating with one another, they are communicating past each otter.
Everyone has their own script and they are going through it regardless of what the other says or feels.
The two managers there fail to listen to Peter, they fail to listen that he has taken care of it and that he needs no guidance.
And they obviously fail to see how frustrated he is.

People who lack emotional intelligence:

  • Don’t understand when people need to go “deeper”
  • Fail to realize the obviousness of why routines and pick-up lines don’t work
  • Believe that “winning” is a good social strategy
  • Can’t read body language and nonverbal cues and take words at face value
  • Don’t understand where personal boundaries lie
  • Lack empathy and don’t understand how others feel

No Emotional Intelligence, No Real Relationships

Failing to empathize and understand one another has deep, far-reaching consequences that go far beyond social awkwardness.
The biggest consequence is that without emotional intelligence you will never have great relationships.
As a matter of fact, you won’t even have “good” relationships.

Look at this example:

Seth Godin wants to discuss important questions he cares about. They relate to him and his life and they are perfect occasions to go deeper.
But Gary Vaynerchuk lacks emotional intelligence and fails to realize it.
Vaynerchuk is forcing Seth Godin to conform to his style of relationships: superficial and emotionally shallow.

What To Do

Emotional intelligence is a key ability that you need to cultivate.
If you have none, there is no easy fix: you need to basically start learning people from scratch.
That’s the bad news. The good one is this: it’s very possible!
This website offers a great guide because that’s a process that I have gone through myself (through the years).

For more examples of creating a deep connection, check how to develop a deep emotional connection


Socially awkward individuals lack emotional intelligence, social intelligence, and, sometimes, even empathy.

That’s the root cause of the issue, which then finds several different expressions of “daily social awkwardness”.

In some people, the issue is compounded by a lack of confidence and nervousness which, in turn, makes others feel nervous as well.

If you want to know how to stop being socially awkward, this is the deep solution: increase your emotional intelligence and your understanding of social dynamics while you keep training in real life as well.

3 thoughts on “Socially Awkward: Signs & Fixes (W/ Video)”

  1. Lifelong Maze

    Sadly, I just feel reassured that group conversations (with anything over 3 people involved; maybe 5 if they know each other very well) are not only super-awkward but also just a big loss of time. Heck, how can one have a good time and bond (either collectively or on a one-to-one basis) without “fact-finding” and “conveying meaning”? As one of my compatriots put it: beyond logic there’s just jabber.

    But could you explain what you mean by “going deeper”? That one seems to stand in opposition to the rest of the article, because from my antisocial and introvert point of view a good conversation is always about going “deeper”. Of course, I can’t FEEL whether another person wants to go deeper – I just HAVE them doing it or not.


    1. Lucio Buffalmano

      Hello there,

      By going deeper I mean discussing personal matters that you mostly discuss with people whom you know relatively well and trust.

      When people get good at reading people, they can also recognize the signs that they want to open up or discuss more personal matters (usually: stop joking, pauses, getting more serious facial expressions, more pained facial expressions if the topic is painful, ask you personal questions and opinions with the hope you’ll ask the same back etc. etc.)

      1. Lifelong Maze

        Thank you for the answer. That’s pretty much what I supposed. To be more precise, what I consider the most important element of going deeper is DISCUSSING EMOTIONS.

        I find that mirroring works the same way here as with anxiety: when I get serious and the other person sees it, they are likely to get serious themselves. Indeed, given my poor social skills, it strikes me sometimes how eager different people are to confide in me. Without me needing to read them non-verbally and wondering whether they want this seriousness or not.

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