My mom discovered my crippling social awkwardness at McDonald’s when I was five years old. As we pulled into the parking lot, I insisted on going into the Kids’ Playland area (remember this, 90’s kids?) before eating. She gave in.
But there was one big problem…
We walked inside the play area, and there were other kids everywhere. And I don’t just mean a few kids in the ball pit and a few kids on the slide. I was completely surrounded. Horrified of the inevitable social interaction I’d face, I quickly hid behind my mother’s leg.
She asked, “What’s wrong?”
My reply was simple:
“There are too many kids, so I can’t play. I’m not going to play until they all leave.”
While I realize this makes me sound like the most antisocial person to have ever walked the planet, I’ve taught myself how to talk to people over the years. And I’ve done a decent job of it, but it wasn’t easy – especially when I first started my business. Why?
Because running a business doesn’t simply involve socializing. You have to sell and be persuasive. You have to make connections while networking at events. You have to provide the dreaded customer service.
But guess what? If I can do it, you can too!
So, if you’re not the most socially suave person in the world, read on. I’ll tell you a few tips and tricks I’ve used to survive in the business world.
Stop the spotlight effect in its tracks
Presenting your product to big-shot CEOs? Attending an intimidating meeting? Socializing at a conference?
Stop worrying about any potential social awkwardness showing through, and get your mind right.
Studies have shown that people overestimate the amount of attention other people are giving them. This phenomenon is called the spotlight effect, and understanding it so you can move past it will work wonders for your social skills.
After all, your social awkwardness is likely due to extreme self-awareness… but you are the only person paying extra attention to your appearance, mannerisms, and speech. Others aren’t nearly as concerned with you as you might think – they’re typically much too caught up in their own world.
So, try not to fret too much about what others are thinking about you.
I know – easier said than done! But I’d encourage you to study up on the spotlight effect and how it works. Then, you’ll get some peace of mind knowing that you’re just the center of your own universe – not everybody else’s.
Practice, practice, practice!
I was a lot more outgoing before I became a writer.
Probably because writing requires lots of alone time. I mean, I do work in my home office most days, and my two dogs are my only company.
Compared to my non-writing days when I’d constantly go to parties, hang out with friends, and socialize with co-workers, it’s quite a change.
And trust me – when you don’t talk to people often, you forget how to talk to people, no matter how sharp your social skills were before.
That’s why it’s so important for you to push yourself out of your comfort zone and practice your social skills regularly… kind of like exposure therapy! Then, you’ll feel a lot more confident at business meetings and networking events.
Here are a few ideas to help you develop better social skills:
- Find an extroverted friend and go along with what they want to do this weekend – Chances are, they’ll want to be around other people, which will force you to be around other people too. The good thing is that you’ll have at least one person there that you’re comfortable with!
- Talk to a stranger – While this might feel weird at first, talking to strangers is a great way to overcome social awkwardness. One word of caution with this: avoid saying anything creepy about someone’s appearance! Instead, you may want to consider complimenting a waiter on his service or wishing your cashier a good rest of her day.
- Introduce yourself – Striking up a conversation with someone you don’t know can feel unnatural, but you almost have to do it at conferences. If you’re extra nervous, look around for others who seem to be as unsure as you are, and talk to them. Chances are, they’ll be thankful that they didn’t have to approach anyone.
And remember – socializing is a skill that can take a lot of time and effort to develop. If you don’t succeed right away, keep trying. Your practice outside of work will eventually help you better navigate the social situations you face in the workplace!
Be positive and put a big ol’ smile on your face
Going into a situation believing that you will fail means you’ll probably create a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, you need to be positive if you want a positive outcome.
So, try to think back to times you succeeded socially the next time you have to attend a meeting or conference, and remind yourself that you can do this!
And, hard as it may be, try to smile. You’ll look more approachable, which will make others more likely to want to talk to you!
Keep the right perspective
No matter what social event you’re attending, there are going to be people there that are just as socially awkward as you are. Remind yourself of this, and you’ll feel a bit more comfortable going in!
You can also use your knowledge of others’ awkwardness to encourage yourself to approach people. By focusing on aiding them in their discomfort instead of thinking about how you can hide from socializing, you will feel less awkward and become more likely to reach out to people.