How to Be Less Socially Awkward in Order to Get Ahead

Being more confident and self-assured in social situations requires us to accept ourselves as we are, quirks and all.


Being socially awkward is difficult. The world is moving ever so faster with every passing year and the people who dislike (or fear) stepping out in front are the ones getting left behind. This is particularly true in the workplace.

Sure, not every job requires a lot of social interaction, but for the most part, being charismatic and confident offers a clear advantage for your career, and dare I say, life in general.

My own experiences in the rat race have taught me that the most deserving people aren’t always the ones that get pegged for raises and promotions. Often it’s the loudest and most self-aggrandizing individuals that get ahead.

This isn’t a blanket rule, of course, there are good leaders out there with an eye for true talent, but amid the chaos of the modern day workplace, it often comes down to what you appear to be doing rather than what you’re actually doing.

Studies on introverts seem to back this idea. Despite the fact that introverts make up about half of the population, and that research has shown that they outperform extroverts in some situations, they hold just 12% of all supervisory positions and only 2% of all senior executive roles.

These stats paint a bleak picture for the awkward and shy among us. But before despairing you should know that being socially awkward isn’t a life sentence. The ability to socially interact with confidence is something you can develop over time.

The Mechanics of Being Socially Awkward

While recently reading the self-help classic Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz, I came across a passage that hit home in terms of the struggles I used to deal with:

“The reason some people are self-conscious and awkward in social situations is that they are too consciously concerned, too anxious, to do the right thing. They are painfully conscious of every move they make. Every action is ‘thought-out.’ Every word spoken is calculated for its effect.”

This summarized most of my social interactions, whether it be submitting a request to my boss, chatting with coworkers during happy hour, or simply going up to a store’s customer service counter.

I was acutely aware of how I looked and how I sounded in most social situations. Every word, when I did speak, was carefully measured in order to avoid embarrassing myself. The result was that I came across as awkward—not much better if you ask me.

Maltz goes on to say:

“We speak of such person as ‘inhibited,’ and rightly so. But it would be more true were we to say that the ‘person’ is not inhibited; but that the person has ‘inhibited’ his own creative mechanism. If these people could ‘let go,’ stop trying, not care, and give no thought to the matter of their behavior, they could act creatively, spontaneously, and ‘be themselves.’ ”

We are socially awkward in those moments when we’re trying too hard to impress or avoid humiliation. Our overthinking results in behavior that is not true to our nature and our creative ability is suppressed. The reality is that we’d be better off if we could learn to let go.

Tips for How to Be Less Socially Awkward

Here are some ways we can begin to get out of our own way in social situations:

  • Stop overthinking – Wild, racing thoughts aren’t helping the situation. We need to clear our minds in order to let our true personality shine through.
  • Be in the moment – We must be attentive to what’s happening from moment to moment. This will allow us to naturally respond to what is happening around us rather play out a script from our heads.
  • Relax your body – Our body language plays an important role in how we feel. Relax your body and your mind will follow.
  • Take a deep breath; exhale – Breathing exercises are effective at calming nerves and can help put us in a prime state for entering a social situation.
  • Reframe the situation – Social situations are not job interviews and the spotlight is not on us. Socializing is a common, everyday thing that requires little skill.
  • Remember that other people have their own issues to deal with – Most people are too caught up in their own life and the challenges they face to worry about any slip-ups on our end.

The tips above can help you prepare for social interactions, but they only counteract the mechanics of being awkward. The underlying reasons must ultimately be addressed if you are to become more confident and self-assured in social situations.

The Root Cause: Not Feeling That You Belong

A study on why people are socially awkward found that awkward moments fall into distinct categories: when expectations are unknown, when social norms are broken, and when people’s names are forgotten to list a few.

When did participants feel least awkward? When common interests were being shared, when one person helped another person, when someone was positive about someone else, and in humorous moments. In other words, the least awkward moments were when people were connecting with each other.

I believe this gets to the crux of the issue. We behave socially awkward because deep down inside we don’t feel like we belong. This is a problem beyond our physiology in any given moment. It’s one we need to address if we are to reach a state of confidence and self-assuredness.

The first and most important step is to accept ourselves as we are, quirks and all. This is what having the confidence to face the world fundamentally comes down to. Only when we accept ourselves as we are, and find peace in that acceptance, can we connect with others.

No lie, it’s not going to be easy. Changing lifelong views we have about ourselves takes time and a whole lot of effort. There will be frustration. There will be moments when we want to quit. But the effort will be worth it in the end.

You Are Awesome Anyway

One thing to keep in mind is that being socially awkward is not some abnormal defect. Plenty of people exhibit this trait. Just like some people are better athletes than others, or are more creative, there are people that are more confident than others in social situations.

As with anything else in life, we can still get better in this area even if we’ll never necessarily master it. We just need to evolve enough to get comfortable in our own skin.

Also worth nothing is that awkward people can be…well…pretty darn awesome. A study from Oxford University found that awkward individuals tend to “have an unusually intense focus.” This quality leads them to “show an exuberance for taking things apart, obsessively studying the components, then systematically putting those parts together in a new way, which is why they are more likely to ‘nerd out’ over fields like science, technology, engineering or mathematics.”

This information emphasizes the idea that awkward people are not deficient; they’re just better in different areas. And with consistent effort we can also add social skills to our repertoire.

Ready to join the Journey?

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