Oh my goodness, this is so me. I am the queen of feeling socially awkward!
I feel like I say the wrong thing all the time, at least, I certainly used to. Nowadays, the people I meet cannot believe that I used to struggle in social situations.
I would avoid parties and group functions. If there was a likelihood of there being more than three people at an event, then chances were, I wouldn’t go. Don’t get me wrong, I would still attend from time to time, only my head would start over-thinking. ‘How do you start a conversation?’ ‘What do you say?’ ‘It’s so boring saying, How are you? or What’s been happening?, everyone asks those questions!‘
Every time a conversation got started with someone, it kind of went quiet really quickly and there would be this uncomfortable silence, and I didn’t know what to say. Everyone else seemed to say the right thing, to know what to say. It felt like everyone was more intelligent, outgoing or successful. It was like everything I did would just be wrong, goofy, silly or not appropriate.
People Watching Is Fun!
Are you a people watcher too? Standing back and watching people like a live action movie unfolding in front of you. Seeing what people do, imagining their conversations, noticing the reactions and telling yourself that if you watched enough, then it would get easier to make conversations yourself. I would be able to do the same as them. I could be as confident. From a distance, I imagined everyone saying the right thing every time. But people watching can be a false escape, used to avoid the uncomfortable feeling of going up and starting a conversation with someone.
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Now that I’ve learned how to communicate better, how to feel okay in social situations, how to feel confident within myself, on my own and around people; people watching is actually not nearly as much fun as being in the thick of it and having fun with people.
What if you don’t interact with many people, if you prefer your own company?
It’s also ok to prefer your own company. If you really need time on your own, do it and enjoy it. I do. There is a difference though to staying home because your re-energising, and staying home because you’re avoiding the uncomfortable feeling of going out. More often than not, I used to stay home to hide away.
When I started to notice that I’d stay away from social situations because I felt out of place, I realised that I was really good at being on my own. I was really good at watching other people. I was really good at keeping to myself. I’d practice conversations in my head, I called it script writing. I had these little movies I’d play out, of how the conversation would go, except in the movie, I was excellent. I was well spoken, funny, caring, interesting. I was so good at it that I didn’t feel like I had to go and talk to somebody, because we’d already had the conversation. Unfortunately, it had only occurred in my head.
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Those limited experiences in social situations while I was growing up, meant that when I was in my twenty’s, I was still socially awkward. I was still thinking more than I was saying, and people would notice. You can tell when somebody’s in their head, can’t you? You can tell when they’re thinking, rather than when they’re just talking and being with you.
When Perfection Get’s In The Way
Have you ever heard someone else speaking, or watched them dancing and compared your skills with theirs? When you’re socially awkward, there’s often a part of you that just doesn’t want to stuff it up. If I say the wrong thing, wear the wrong clothes, dance funny, then I won’t impress my boss, or cute guy or girl. You search for perfection, but people are not perfect.
The more social I was, what I realised is that the worst case scenario often isn’t as bad as you imagine. That, if you say the wrong thing, as long as you’re honest about it, often the person you’re talking to has done the same thing before. They know what it’s like to stumble on their words, been stuck for something to say, or said something completely wrong, to their boss, or to their work colleagues, or their date. They’ve experienced it before, everyone get’s it wrong sometimes, and they got through it. The difference between somebody who is socially awkward and somebody who is socially confident is that people who are socially confident have been in conversations, met different people, so many times that they know they are okay. The worst case scenario isn’t that bad.
These ‘baby steps’ will get you there
How do you get better at social situations? Education teaches us to raise the standard, to look beyond where we are and be better. What gets in the way, is when we think that we should be better than we are. Think of a child learning to walk. Parent’s don’t sit their child down and go through books teaching the child to walk, showing them the best way. When a child takes its first step, we celebrate, right? We don’t tell the child they are not good enough because they are not walking confidently across the room after the first few times. What we can learn from children learning to walk, is to know where you are at in the beginning, and then break it down to small steps.
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A friend of mine, when he was 20, was not great in social situations; he preferred to build computers or read books. He was so stuck in his head, stuck in thinking and analysing things, that when he was at school, he would spend time in the library, rather than going out and talking to people.
One day, he decided he wanted to be comfortable talking to people. He thought about it and created a strategy, which he broke down into very small, manageable steps. So the first week, he set himself a goal to say hello to 20 people a day, for five days in a row. He was living in London at that time, and he would go to his local cafe or bar and do just just that. He’d walk up to the any random person, say ‘Hello’, and then walk away. Then he walked up to the next person, would say ‘Hello’, and walk away. He didn’t have to wait for them to answer, all he had to do was say hello. As soon as he got to 20 people, he went home.
The next week, his goal was to say hello, and introduce himself. That was it. 20 people a day, every day of the week. The third week he added to the goal, and had to ask the person a question. It went on and on. Rather than trying to be perfect in everything straight away, by getting good at each small step, the steps linked together so that within a very short period of time, he was making conversation with people easily.
How to get started
A great way to get started is to have a few favourite ways to open conversations, and be different! How many times a day do you think we get asked ‘How is your day?’ or ‘How are you?’? We have heard these questions so many times, most people have automatic responses like ‘Good thanks’; ‘Ok’. If you’ve ever gone to the supermarket and at the checkout been asked ‘How is your day?’. You might find that if you say ‘My day’s been terrible’, the checkout assistant will give an automatic response of ‘That’s good’. We don’t think about the answer anymore, because we hear it so many times.
Melisa Grigg - Head Coach & Trainer
Melisa was stuck in sadness for 15 years, hated her job, was overweight and her relationship had just ended. Melisa inspires people with her story and now teaches how she sorted her life out. She worked out how to be happy and how to lose over 30kg of body weight. In simple steps she teaches how you can stop procrastinating, find confidence, stop being so sad and finally start to find true meaning and purpose in your life.
If you ask a different question, it stops people in their tracks, and they have to think about the response. This increases the quality of the conversation and helps you to stand out as someone that is different and intriguing. One of my favourites is ‘What do you like to do for fun?’ The best thing about this question is that when people respond, they usually smile and get excited, because it gets them thinking about something they like doing. If you’re genuinely interested in what they like to do for fun, you can find yourself in conversation for some time, and even possibly spending more time with that person, having fun!
Think of some different ways to start conversations, or use mine! Keep it simple. Baby Steps. Then go out and have fun, find things that you love to do, and go meet people there. If you like going to the movies, find a movie club. If you like rock climbing or have been thinking about trying it, find a rock climbing group. You’re more likely to meet people that are interested in similar things when you’re having fun. If you are at work, in conferences, meetings, or in the lunchroom, introduce yourself and start with an interesting question. See what happens, you could be surprised with how much fun it can be to meet new people!
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