Everyone’s had a socially awkward experience or two.
You go to hug someone, but they’re trying to shake your hand, so you end up backslapping them from a foot away. Your date asks whether you prefer vanilla or chocolate ice cream, and for some reason you end up telling him about the time you vomited after eating vanilla. (Obviously, nothing like this has ever happened to me.)
Chances are good that you’re not nearly as socially inept as you believe you are. But simply thinking of yourself as awkward can undermine your confidence in social situations.
To help give you a confidence boost, we checked out the Quora thread “What are the best ways to improve social skills?” and pinpointed some practical tips.
We can’t promise you’ll never have another awkward encounter, but hopefully this advice will help you to enjoy, instead of dread, social interactions.
(Note that if social anxiety is interfering with your ability to function on a daily basis, you might consider seeing a therapist, who can give you more tools to overcome your nerves.)
3. Act 'as if.'
In other words, fake it 'til you make it.
'Act 'as if' you have great social skills. What does that look like? … Pretend you are the host of whatever gathering you are in and make someone feel welcome. Smile, make brief eye contact, and say hi.'
Crawford is onto something -- a growing body of research suggests that you can change your emotions simply by changing your behaviour. For example, smiling can make you feel happier, and adopting a 'power pose' can make you feel more confident.
4. Practice and reflect.
Social awkwardness is something of a vicious cycle. The worse you feel, the less likely you are to talk to people, which only exacerbates your discomfort.
That's why Jeremy Mifsud recommends deliberately seeking out a range of social situations as a kind of experiment:
'The easiest ways to improve your social skills is to consciously put yourself into social situations. Afterward think about what went to your liking and what else was there that you wanted out of each situation.'
5. Take an improv class.
Hari Alipuria suggests that others who frequently feel awkward in social situations follow his lead in doing improvisational theatre:
'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 myself, I actively listen, and build on what others have said.'
It goes back to McGinnis' idea that you should redirect your focus away from yourself, what might go wrong in the future, and the mistakes you've made in the past, and concentrate instead on the current conversation.
7. Ask questions.
Don't use every interaction as an opportunity to impose your values and beliefs on others. Consider how you can make the other person feel relaxed and give them space to express their thoughts and feelings.
'Instead of racing to insert your own point of view, ask questions,' says Karen Engdahl. 'Don't interrupt. Don't feel compelled to fill silence with chatter.'
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