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?
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.((Harvard Business School: The Benefit of Power Posing Before a High-Stakes Social Evaluation))
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.
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.