We’ve all been there — you’re having a conversation with a person you hardly know and eventually you run out of things to say. An awkward silence ensues, and you’re clutching at straws trying to make the situation less awkward than it already is.
While some people seem to carry themselves effortlessly in a variety of social situations, for others, it can be a bane. In fact, if you often find yourself struggling with anxiety and nervousness during those
polite awkward conversations with relatives you hardly see except for festive occasions, or when you’re stuck in a party filled with people you don’t know, you might be what society dubs “the socially awkward person”.
But don’t worry — you’re not a peculiar breed. Many people struggle with this problem too.
If you feel like being socially awkward is starting to damper your life, then it’s time to take action. Here are 6 suggestions to help you become more graceful in your social interactions.
#1. Keep calm and carry on
Got pulled into attending a social outing with a large group of people, most of whom you’re unfamiliar with? You might find yourself feeling uncomfortable, have difficulty contributing to the conversation, stumbling over your words or worrying too much about what others think of you.
However, instead of focusing on your nerves and anxiety, remember to keep calm. Step outside and take a few deep breaths if you need to. And if you find yourself having unhelpful thoughts (e.g. “I’m a boring person, why can’t I be more outgoing like others?”), it’s important to remember that they do not necessarily reflect the truth.
So try to relax and challenge any irrational thoughts you have. The more pressure you put yourself under to act a certain way, the harder it is to be yourself and let your personality shine.
#2. Practise the art of making small talk
“How are you? Have you eaten? The weather is humid, isn’t it?”
Small talk is the art of making a conversation for the sake of making a conversation.
We use it when bumping into an acquaintance at the mall (and not taking the easy way out by pretending we didn’t see them), when we’re in the lift with a lecturer or a classmate we’ve never spoken to, or when we’re at an open house and are required to mingle and make polite conversation with others.
You may hate small talk with a vengeance as it can seem superficial, but it is a useful tool in fostering your relationship with others.
If you often find yourself feeling stumped over what to talk about, here are some things you can do today to prepare yourself for future conversations:
- Be a voracious reader: The more you read about various things (news, gadgets, entertainment, etc.), the better your general knowledge will be, allowing you to talk to people who have different interests.
- Develop your curiosity: Focus on others and have a genuine curiosity about them. Some good starter questions include asking them about their interests, their family, what classes they’re taking, the latest movie they watched, their travel plans or who they enjoy following on Instagram.
#3. Find common ground to break the ice
Do you find it easier to establish rapport with a new acquaintance after finding out that you have mutual friends, or that you lived in the same neighbourhood?
Research suggests that finding common interests can help you feel less awkward in social situations. In fact, many people choose friends based on shared interests and not necessarily because they like these people the most.
So, don’t be afraid to express your likes and dislikes or volunteer information about yourself. By exchanging details, whether it’s your favourite football team or your most frequented nasi lemak joint, it can lead to a wide range of conversation topics and before you know it, you may have hit it off and made a new friend!
#4. Practice makes perfect
You may dislike socialising but the more you practise being in different social situations (from impromptu gatherings with your classmates to college dances and open houses), the better you’ll get with time.
You can observe how non-socially awkward people act in social situations and mimic them, or modify your behaviour accordingly. Or, if you happen to have a friend who is comfortable in social settings, consider asking them for help or feedback to help you improve your social skills.
You can also ask a friend to come with you for these outings if you need some support.
#5. Accept who you are
Society may glorify charismatic individuals who carry themselves with ease in social situations, but that’s no reason to berate yourself if you’re shy, bashful or introverted.
Cultural historian Joe Moran notes that accepting his shyness probably makes him better company in social situations, which is advice worth listening.
So while you may never like parties and hate making small talk despite learning how to do so, beating yourself over it won’t solve the problem, nor will it help you become comfortable with yourself. Hence, it’s important to accept yourself instead.
#6. Seek professional help
If your social awkwardness is affecting your ability to function normally on a daily basis (e.g. missing out on graded presentations out of fear of judgment), then it’s time to seek professional help.
Make an appointment with your institution’s counsellor to talk things through. A counselling session is a safe place for you to discuss your problems while ensuring whatever discussed between you and your counsellor remains private.
While there’s no magic pill that can turn you into a great conversationalist overnight, there are some tactics you can employ to help you be more graceful in social situations. With time and practice, you’ll be able to develop better social skills, let your personality shine and have fewer “socially awkward” moments. All the best!