We all know someone who is less than competent in social situations where they will often feel shyness and/or awkwardness, sometimes to the point where they will actively start to avoid participating in those situations. That can lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness and rejection. Luckily, there are several techniques that can help you overcome shyness and awkwardness and enhance your social skills, which will result in a more fulfilling social life.
We will be taking a look at techniques and tactics that will help you to stop being shy and awkward in all kinds of situations and increase your social competence. Make sure to read until the end, because it will definitely give you useful advice that you will be able to implement in almost every area of your life.
Before we continue, just a quick disclaimer: Do not use advice in this article as a substitute for therapy. If you are feeling excessive shyness and awkwardness that might indicate you are suffering from social anxiety disorder, please consult a mental health professional.
If you are the kind of person who would always rather stay at home and re-watch Game of thrones than go to a party because you feel less than comfortable in social gatherings and other social situations, these tips may provide you with some ideas for ways to become more confident and assertive in those situations.
Let’s start by taking a look at how the problem of shyness and awkwardness forms and maintains itself in the first place. For various reasons, people’s upbringing and early experiences in life create problems in the process of socialization. Those people become anxious in different social contexts later in life. Psychologists hold that one of the main reasons that happens is negative self-talk. Basically, that is your critical inner voice telling you that you are not good enough, smart enough, funny enough, attractive enough and so on. That creates fear of being criticized or rejected by other people, which results in avoidant behavior that prevents you from participating in meaningful social interactions that would otherwise make you feel content and fulfilled.
Research indicates that shyness is then maintained through a vicious cycle that goes something like this: you approach a social situation which creates fear of being negatively evaluated by other people, so you avoid that situation altogether. This results in feelings of shame and self-blame that need to be resolved somehow by using coping mechanisms. These coping mechanisms usually involve creating negative emotional attitudes toward other people, basically “blaming” them for your discomfort around them, which further reinforces your desire to avoid situations where you have to deal with people. Luckily, there are ways to break this vicious cycle and improve your social skills, just like any other skill. We are going to go over seven of them.
1. Recognize your “inner critic”.
Try to be aware of the negative self-talk that we mentioned earlier. Your negative inner voice may be telling you that you are not intelligent enough to maintain a conversation about a certain topic, that you are not good-looking enough to approach a girl or a guy you like, that you are not funny enough to make people laugh, that you are incapable of connecting to other people. That same inner voice may be telling you that you are too awkward to enter a conversation in the first place, that you won’t be able to find something to talk about with others or that you might embarrass yourself by doing something out of place. This step is very important because, in order to solve a problem, you must first acknowledge that it exists and identify it.
2. Test reality.
After you’ve become aware of your self-defeating thoughts, try to think about them critically and rationally. Are you really that unattractive, unintelligent or incompetent? People who are close to you can provide you with some useful insight. Then, if you come to the conclusion that you really do possess some of those undesirable characteristics, you should realize that there are many different ways to self improve. If you are worried about embarrassing yourself by doing something that would make people in a given social setting uncomfortable or that you might say something awkward, ask yourself – would that be such a disaster? People, especially if they are vulnerable and sensitive to criticism, tend to overestimate the possible negative consequences of their words and actions. This technique will help you get a more accurate and realistic picture of how exactly other people perceive you, and how you perceive yourself in situations you find yourself in.
3. Incrementally increase your exposure to situations that make you feel uncomfortable.
One of the main problems of withdrawing from a social setting that causes you to feel anxious, nervous or awkward is that it can make the problem worse. This can happen because, if you run away from situations that cause discomfort, you can’t learn that you can recover from that sense of awkwardness that might not be quite as severe as you perceive it to be. The best way to deal with this problem is something known as gradual exposure. Start by exposing yourself to situations that cause very slight discomfort, like going to a supermarket and saying “Hi!” to your neighbor. Then, start to gradually increase the stakes, so to speak, by exposing yourself to social settings that make you feel more uncomfortable than the previous ones, and work your way up to those that make you feel extremely anxious. This will provide you with useful feedback and information from both people and situations you find yourself in, and you may end up realizing that your worrying about other people’s opinions was either disproportional to the situations themselves or that, if even if you did say or do something embarrassing, it wouldn’t be the end of the world – because it happens to everyone.
4. Plan for your social exposure to go well.
When you do end up socializing more, you may start experiencing more anxiety in certain situations than in others. One of the ways to reduce that anxiety is to think in advance about what you can do to prepare for any possible obstacles or feelings of discomfort you may experience. You can do that by asking yourself, and potentially writing down the ways in which you can relate to other people in a given setting. For example, you can think about the current topics that people usually talk about, what you feel comfortable sharing about yourself and listening to about other people or what you have in common with people you may encounter. However, if your levels of discomfort become unbearable, you can think of an exit strategy – just try not to use it. Gradually exposing yourself to situations that may make you feel uncomfortable is an excellent strategy to overcome your anxiety, shyness or awkwardness, but it is also important to feel that you are in control in any situation.
5. Be kind and polite.
One of the well known psychological phenomena is that we tend to like people who like us back. By immediately and completely withdrawing from a situation that provokes your anxiety, you may end up sending an unintended message that you don’t really like the person or people you are with. The result would be their discomfort with you too, which would make it less likely for them to want to associate with you and you may end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, try bringing up topics of common interest, helping someone or giving someone a compliment. This would be a sure-fire way to increase the possibility of people liking you and wanting to spend more time with you, which would, in turn, reduce your levels of anxiety and build or strengthen your confidence.
6. Don’t overthink things.
People who are prone to feelings of shame and discomfort in social contexts tend to overestimate the negative opinions they think others hold about them or exaggerate the importance and consequences of any possible mishaps. Instead, psychologists recommend practicing mindfulness, which is a set of techniques that consist of thinking about things in the here-and-now terms that may deter you from ruminating about possible negative outcomes.
7. Show interest and listen to people.
By paying attention to what other people are telling you and really engaging with them, you will be accomplishing two things simultaneously:
1) you won’t be overly focused on yourself and your negative thoughts, and
2) you will be getting people interested in you by providing them with opportunities to generate interesting conversations with you. This way, you will be increasing the likelihood of people actually liking you and reducing your sense of social incompetence, which is exactly the outcome you want.
There you have it – seven techniques that will help you overcome your shyness and awkwardness!