Here’s a cringe worthy (and completely true) story about social awkwardness…
Five college gents and one gal – Sarah – are enjoying themselves on their balcony on a warm spring day. Four of them, Jon, Rick, Steve, and Bruce are roommates, and the fifth gent, Mike, is a buddy of Jon and Rick’s. Mike is staying with everyone for the weekend.
After a minute of talking with the guys, Sarah excuses herself and goes inside.
The five guys keep talking. Soon, conversation turns to sex. A few jokes are shared.
Then, Mike asks one of his buddies,
“Hey Jon, have you gotten with Sarah yet? You totally should dude. She’s hot.”
Jon shakes his head, signaling that he hasn’t. Lines form down his face. He’s clearly tense as hell, but Mike doesn’t notice.
The four roommates go silent, each suddenly fidgeting. Mike cluelessly continues.
“How about you Rick, have you slept with Sarah? You totally have.. Haven’t you? You dog!”
Like Jon, Rick’s eyes dart from side to side. He meekly says he hasn’t. Steve and Bruce, the other two roommates, look equally nervy.
Just as the awkwardness reaches an all time high, Jon pulls his buddy Mike inside.
He tells Mike, “Dude! You crazy fool. Sarah is Bruce’s sister!” Mike goes beat red.
He had no idea, but he just asked his two buddies if they had slept with Bruce’s sister Sarah right in front of … Bruce!
Clearly awkward – but these things happen. Mistakes occur.
What follows are 5 keys for transcending social awkwardness, even if you make a social faux pas like Mike did.
Key #1: Pay Attention to Social Cues
A little social awareness goes a long way! And while the topic of social awareness is deep enough for an entire book, by itself, I’ll share two areas you want to be especially aware of. So that you can avoid social awkwardness.
Firstly, aim to quickly understand the social relationships that exist whenever you enter a new social situation. Family linages, dating relationships, and information you can glean about the history people have with one another in a social circle is vital information.
The quicker you figure out how the puzzle pieces fit together, the quicker you can integrate into that group in a smooth and fluid manner. Clearly, Mike here didn’t get the family lineage and it made the whole group uneasy. Don’t be that guy.
Secondly, tune into the emotions and sub-communications people express whenever you engage with others.
Body language, facial expressions, small twitches, and the emotional tone in people’s voices give clues, and almost always precede anything a person will actually say regarding their discomfort.
The more fluent you become in reading and interpreting sub-communications and implicit cues people give, the less likely you are to create an awkward situation. Pick up on social cues early and adapt accordingly.
Key #2: Call Out the Elephant in the Room
Let’s say that you do mess up though. It happens. To everyone. Imagine you’re in Mike’s shoes for a minute. You accidentally ask the boys who sleeps with Bruce’s sister in front of Bruce. Awkward? Yup. So what to do now?
Rule number one: Call out the elephant in the room. When you make a mistake or do something that’s caused awkwardness, call it out immediately!
The reason is simple: when you tackle the situation head on, you can explain your misunderstanding of the context and you can re-shape the perception of the event in your favor. If you figured out on his own that Sarah and Bruce were related, you could say, “Oh wow. Bruce – you’re related to Sarah aren’t you? Bruce – I apologize. I had no idea. I would have never have said that had I known.”
Of course, it’s still somewhat awkward here (why there’s 5 keys). But it’s way less so than if you left the unsettled tension in the group. Never let social awkwardness linger. Situations that aren’t confronted head on ferment like food left baking in the sun…
Things that aren’t dealt with spoil.
Whenever a conflict, problem, or awkward situation arises, be the man and call it out head on ASAP.
Key #3: Apologize Directly if You Do Misstep
After you call out your awkward move, apologize one time, sincerely.
Apologizing after calling out your error is a smooth play, it’s the respectful thing to do, and it makes your actions forgivable by most people (unless if you did something wild like… shoot someone’s dog. Don’t do that).
But there’s a right way to apologize and a wrong way after a moment of social awkwardness The right way is to share you’re sorry by saying so in a heartfelt way while looking the person/people in the eye. Then, follow by saying, “Are we cool?”
When you apologize directly and sincerely, and you follow by a question confirming that everything is okay, you usually come out in a really strong position. Everyone in the group sees that you’re the kind of guy that handles pressure with calm leadership. A bad moment like the one we started with, when you follow these steps, often actually leads to you gaining respect and status in the group.
And lastly here, once you apologize once, drop the topic and pivot the conversation.
More on this in key #4. If a moment of social awkwardness did occur, and it was then dealt with, bringing it up again only re-ignites the situation. If you put out a fire, don’t start another one.
Key #4: Change the Focus of the Conversation
Rather you make a social error like Mike or you simply notice a thread of conversation has the potential to be awkward, always remember you have the power to change the thread of conversation in a heartbeat.
Learn to change the focus of conversation by mastering three simple techniques.
Before sharing, a simple rule of thumb is that the bigger the group, the more loudly you’ll need to speak and the more precise your interjection, in order to capture and then, change, the focus of the group.
The simple rule is this: regardless of the size of the group, wait for a moment where there’s a lull, then, decisively interject. What follows however are three secrets for doing just that so you can change the focus of conversation.
First tip: ask a question. Any question. Questions change your focus. If I ask you what your favorite childhood movie was? …you’re going to think about it. Your mind has changed its focus. Questions work a treat.
Next tip: tell a story. If I get your attention and ask you, “Did you ever hear about the time I was chased down by five gangsters…?” …Do I have your attention? Will you want to hear that story? Yes and yes. Notice too that you gain interest from the group to share a story by asking a good question.
Last tip here: change the focus of the group by simply continuing to talk.
One of the most powerful weapons in your social arsenal of skills is your ability to just confidently keep your mouth moving.
When you keep talking, you continue to fill the mind of the person/people you’re connecting with, with new information and ideas. Of course, this changes their focus and suddenly, that one somewhat awkward topic is gone and forgotten.
Key #5: Bring the Light and Playful Energy
Maintaining a light emotional demeanor is the chief trait of gents who are comfortable socially. We’re all attracted to the light, playful guy because he’s easy to be around. But how do you stay light?
The most effective strategy for doing so is to self amuse. The self amused guy is the guy who cracks jokes, teases the group lightly, and does so with a smile across his face the whole time. He infuses everyone with his relaxed, easy going emotional state.
Self amusement is a gift to both yourself and those around you.
To exude the lighter, more playful side of yourself, try sharing your sense of humor more openly. As you pay more attention, you’ll see that the guys who are most comfortable conversationally share their sense of humor all day long.
And here’s a secret: make jokes for yourself – first and foremost.
See – us guys want to be funny. So we tell a joke and hope for a laugh. But unless you’re naturally comedic – this doesn’t work well. It comes off awkwardly, like you’re pandering for a laugh. That’s not staying light. It’s actually placing an expectation on someone else to find your self of humor funny.
Instead, make jokes for yourself. Hence – self amusement. This takes the pressure off of others to laugh, it pumps up your own emotional state, and then, through a reverse psychology effect, everyone else becomes more comfortable around you because they see you’re both comfortable in your own skin and you’re not placing any pressure on others.
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