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How to feel less awkward

Many introverted people realize that they can be awkward in conversation, and notice that co-workers or acquaintances might be avoiding them if there's a chance of conversation. And many extraverted people have the same situation, but simply don't realize just how awkward and undesirable they are to be around! We are all awkward in some way. Some people are unfairly discriminated against, but if this is happening to you in many different situations, it's probably you. Although there are few people who are naturally gifted conversationalists, anyone can make their (and others') interactions better if they follow some simple rules. Some may seem obvious, but all are commonly needed.

Incidentally, this sort of training is often a critical part of trauma treatment, in that many people who have been through serious childhood trauma grew up in environments where social interaction patterns were not taught or modeled. Also, trauma symptoms such as low self-worth can influence social interactions. This is certainly relevant to ASD individuals as well, and one of these I got from a professor who has Asperger's. While some personality types lend themselves to interaction, these will have different weaknesses that often go unexamined as a result. So it may be good to be bad with something that can be changed with effort, rather than having hidden flaws.

It goes without saying that this is good for dating! Many attractive and interesting people find that they rarely have second dates, as they unintentionally either appear desperate, self-absorbed, or simply awkward, due to preventable conversation patterns.

The biggest piece of advice I have is, DON'T look at online lessons or books about how to get people to like you. That's manipulative, and if you are successful, you will be successful in having many shallow and hollow relationships. If that's what you want, well, go ahead, have a meaningless life and make the world a worse place. These suggestions do not add anything, but rather take things out that prevent the real, interesting you from being seen by others.

1. When someone briefly asks how you are, simply say "I'm fine, how are you?" Don't forget to ask back, don't go into any detail, and don't be negative (which invites a probably unwanted interaction). Chances are, it's just the standard American greeting, which actually seems awkward to other cultures for the reason that a personal question is asked, when the speaker isn't at all interested in the answer! But that's how it is, and no one here thinks differently, unless you make it awkward by not following along. However, if the other person responds with more detail, it's something different, and you can follow the rules below.

2. Make consistent eye contact, but with 3-second breaks. Many people do this automatically, so it has become an unrecognized cultural tradition. Much awkwardness involves worrying about what to do, so just do this, and likely you will feel much less awkward, and start doing it automatically. And you will be less awkward to talk to. As well, some worry about the "romantic implications" of eye contact, but the chances are about 99% that the other person isn't seeing it that way if you make normal eye contact. Thanks to a client, who found this one online!

3. Will the world end if you don't share that particular thing that's on your mind, at this very moment? If you simply have to get something out, will you do that at the expense of dragging out a conversation and appearing selfish and over-talkative? You may be genuinely interested, but does it really need to be said? Instead, keep a journal of "deep thoughts" handy if you are a deep thinker, rather than annoying others.

4. Use the "appetizer method." If you introduce a new topic, or start a new line of conversation on the same topic, keep it brief, and see what the response is. If the person asks for more information, give a little more, and then see if there is more interest. This is a great rule for teaching, and I try to keep this in mind when teaching EMDR, which can get overwhelming without these sorts of breaks for questions.

5. Too Much Information! If you aren't sure that you should say it, don't! This goes for private topics, as well as simply explaining things in too much detail without using the "appetizer method."

6. Is what you are going to say appropriate to the situation? If you are with a co-worker you hardly know, is it situation-appropriate to start speaking about your ski trip? Even with the above rules, and not over-talking, it's simply not relevant to the situation. Think about this one, and you will come up with many other examples.

7. Your primary interest in conversation is open-ended questions. You should aim for 60% of what you say to another person being open-ended questions, while doing all of the above. You can be awkward and inappropriate with open-ended questions, too! But if your conversation does not have this, you are awkward regardless.

8. If someone you know, perhaps a co-worker, never stops by your door to have a conversation, don't keep stopping by theirs! Especially if they look busy. This sort of person is the butt of jokes in "The Office," and "Dilbert." Perhaps you have a desire to be liked, or perhaps you simply want some human connection at your dehumanizing job. But this person isn't going to be interested in that, and you should either find people with common interests, or find a new job. However, that's no reason to be rude to someone who rudely never greets you--just keep it to one "Good morning, how are you? and if this gets no response, well, it's not on you.

9. Leave pauses in between statements. This gives the other person time to respond or to change the subject--or to end the conversation in a good way! Doing this guarantees that you will not be perceived as speaking over someone, or "wearing out your welcome" without knowing it. And maybe the other person has to pee.

10. Finally, try to internalize all of these habits by intentional practice, until you start to see change in your interactions, such as people actually smiling when they see you, or engaging you in conversation without your initiating it. Make notes on your progress. At this point, you won't have to handicap yourself by monitoring your conversation, and then can perhaps do a check-in at the end of the day to give yourself a "tune-up."

As mentioned in #8, much awkwardness is come by honestly through an unfulfilled desire for connection that isn't the result of some sort of inherent awkwardness. There's probably nothing wrong with you! You are probably very interesting! Unfortunately, the results of trying to connect in ways that are awkward reinforces the idea that there is something wrong with you, which is tragic.


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