Imagine knocking off the table of drinks at a cocktail party or using the wrong cutlery at a corporate breakfast. This can be excused as a mistake but you probably won’t find it cool being in the gaze of every eye in such a condition.
This is the same way a socially awkward person feels when they miss out on cues when interacting with other people. As social beings, it is expected of us to interact constantly and effectively with one another. This might not be so every time or for everyone.
SOCIALLY AWKWARD MEANING
Social awkwardness is defined as a state of feeling out of place in a social setting, it could be as little as meeting a fist bump with a high-five or as much as joining a conversation, only to drown the tempo. Everyone finds themselves in this situation at one time or the other and might not be seen as out of the ordinary, it could perhaps be due to nervousness or a simple mistake.
However, some people seem to be in this picture called Awkward moments oftentimes. For them, it’s become a way of life accompanied by a lot of misunderstanding as they tend to miss out on important cues when they relate with people. These individuals are described as being Socially inept.
Socially inept refers to the act of finding every form of socializing or interacting with people difficult, leading to isolation, loneliness and low self-esteem.
You might have asked yourself “Why am I socially awkward?” and if it was only you that experiences this. In his book, ‘Awkward’ Psychologist and Author Ty Tashiro states that though everyone has awkward moments no matter how socially competent they are, his research on the science behind awkwardness indicates that what is missing in individuals that are socially inept including himself is not the absence of self-awareness, but rather a lack of certain social skills due to the less activity in the social part of the brain. But, this might be compensated for with a different form of intelligence which helps socially awkward people see things from a lens that other people do not.
Psychologists postulate that though social awkwardness is not a problem on its own and even has an upside including analytical and systematic intelligence – an evolutionary advantage, evident in examples like Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, or Steve Jobs, it still poses a problem to general mental health due to the importance of social contact for emotional stability.
SOCIAL AWKWARDNESS OR SOCIAL ANXIETY OR INTROVERSION
Social awkwardness is at times confused with personality traits such as Introversion or social disorders like Social Anxiety Disorder due to the similarity in the difficulty of social relations.
While individuals with Social awkwardness feel out of place for letting down a social norm, social anxiety is characterized by stress and fear accompanied by being involved with social roles, people with this condition fear and could experience panic attacks when subjected to facing an audience, meet authority figures, are being teased or are at the center of attention.
Introversion on the other hand is the personality preference and orientation of an individual towards himself, they are referred to as being reserved, and gather their energy from interacting with their thoughts and ideas rather than the external world. Introverts always enjoy being alone unlike Socially awkward individuals and would rather associate with a small group than be involved with a large number of people.
Another condition confused with Social awkwardness is Autism and though they possess similarities in some manifestations, Autism is a mental condition and its signs are broader and more intense. Also, it has a greater effect on the lives of those with it when compared to social awkwardness.
SOCIALLY AWKWARD SIGNS
You probably have seen that you are a bit different when it comes to interacting and socializing amongst your group but probably weren’t sure what it was that you go wrong. Though social awkwardness overlaps with some social disorders, socially awkward people exhibit certain characteristics and you might be one if:
- You struggle to initiate a conversation and you cut the tempo when you join one
- People find your conversations boring and joke not funny, maybe rather offensive
- You fail at interpreting social cues like body language and the underlying meaning of spoken words.
- You find it difficult to understand appropriate social behavior or norms
- You might be unable to maintain eye contact
- You might have interest and enthusiasm for more logical topics and methodological that others might consider boring
- You just don’t know how to use your intuition in social affairs
- You think people avoid talking to you and you avoid socializing as much as you can
HOW TO STOP BEING SOCIALLY AWKWARD?
Being socially awkward would make you feel silly and embarrassed but withdrawing rather than confronting and making efforts to overcome this problem would be of no help but make things worse.
Just like we learn everything we know to do, we can as well learn to stop being socially awkward, here are a few steps you should take:
- Confront Awkwardness: you must come to the understanding that social awkwardness happens to everyone at one point or the other. ‘Cringeworthy’ author, Psychologist Melissa Dahl explains in her book that regardless of how embarrassing you could feel, you’re not the first to be faced with any situation you find yourself in, and you definitely will not be the last. This would help you see social awkwardness as not a problem that you have but as a need to be conscious of your environment and social development. You would also want to do away with the obsession of wanting to be socially accepted or the unrealistic expectations of your social relationship.
- Develop Social skills: developing social skill sets like good communication is very important for an individual who wants to stop being socially awkward. This is because communication is the first line of every social interaction, this is not limited to spoken words but inclusive of understanding how to start or sustain a conversation without jeopardizing the tempo, body language involved in the converse, what is considered a joke, and what is not by others, when to interject into a conversation and how to change a subject without going off. Another way to go about this is learning to listen more than you talk while in a conversation, it helps you focus better on the message being passed across and the expectations of the other person. You might not want to try this in a social setting but under less pressure amongst close friends and family, seeking their honest opinion throughout the way until you’re convinced.
- Pay attention: being more mindful of what is going on around you would help you pick up cues on if your audience would want you to keep talking if your joke is acceptable and the appropriate way to relate with a person. This would help you get the message being passed across to you as you should as well as give the necessary reaction to it. Having enough information about the situation would help you to be empathetic, show you have an interest in understanding the person you are relating with, and take you one step outside of being misunderstood.
- Embrace your imperfections: while working on getting better, you might be tempted to enter the trap of perfectionism which would only keep you tiptoeing around awkwardly, eventually solving no problem. Rather, learn to admit your imperfections, laugh about them and figure out how to go about it better for future sake. Studies have shown that people tend to like people that admit and embrace their imperfections as to people that try to be perfect. Being clumsy once in a while is what differentiates humans from clones and being a better social human is your goal.
- Seek help: again, social awkwardness is not a problem on its own but the effect it has on your thoughts about yourself and what it leads to generally should not be ignored. If you feel distressed, concerned about your relationship with other people, or feel unable to do things you love as a result of being socially awkward, you might want to join social groups or clubs who can help you through the journey of knowing what is normal and how to improve what is not as well as build your confidence. Also, you can also seek the help of a therapist who would help analyze if there are underlying factors that could be contributing to your social awkwardness and how to go over these.
Social awkwardness does not mean that you are disconnected from your social group, the fact that you are putting effort into interacting better indicates this. Socially inept people would attest to feeling so for as long as they can remember, therefore regardless of the measures put in place, social awkwardness is not something you can take out overnight but requires constant and deliberate practices to overcome, so you need to learn to be patient and try your best to be more expressive in every situation you find yourself in.