Are you afraid you might be socially awkward?
Or 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.
What’s Socially Awkward
Some guides online define socially awkward as the 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.
Signs of Socially Awkward Individuals
Here are the signs and behavior 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 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:
This guy really doesn’t get it. When he is he leaving so we all can be cool again?What groups think of socially awkward individuals
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 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
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:
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.
#3. Seeks Arguments (Instead of Consensus)
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 an example from Family Guy:
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
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
Me: 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:
- I have no idea what I’m talking about;
- She knows more;
- 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 in the first place.
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 which 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 on social awkwardness stemming from social anxiety:
The exception here are very socially confident, socially powerful and high self-esteem individual. They won’t be feeling awkward just because you feel awkward.
But of course, they are the exception (get the course to become one)
Do this Instead
Well, obviously try to relax.
But if you can’t, don’t try to hide it your nervousness. It might seem counter-intuitive but the awkwardness springs mostly from the friction between the 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 to 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 on creating a deep connection, check how to develop 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.