10 minute read.
Have you ever been at a party, wedding, school dance, night club, meet-up, get-together, whatever kind of social gathering, and you wonder “What the F am I doing here?? No one would want to meet me. I do not belong here, and no one will be able to relate to me or my interests!”
First of all, you need to realize how common this thought pattern is for a lot of people, especially young people who are trying to fit in to a new social setting, such as the first day of college dorm life, or starting a new job. The feeling of anxiety can be overwhelming!
It is usually based on some prior negative experience in a social setting, or just from feeling naturally shy. These feelings may be common, but it doesn’t mean they are exactly healthy. Be careful not to let feelings like this go too far, because they can get toxic and permeate your whole life in a very negative way.
But never fear. I have compiled what I think are the most common mistakes people make when meeting someone new, and how you can overcome social fear, awkward feelings, and painful encounters.
These are based on my experiences as a young awkward, socially inept, introverted, shy, quiet, but strikingly handsome geek from the Midwest. I’ve been there many times, and I can tell you, there is hope. It’s never too late to learn some great social skills!
1. Trying to bullshit your way through a topic.
It feels good to talk it up about a hot relevant topic, doesn’t it? I mean who doesn’t want to know the latest trends in music or sports, or what’s new in movies or fashion clothing? Fantasy football, anyone? But at some point, you’re going to hit a topic where you may not know much about it. And then you may feel the need to add some thrilling commentary just to fill the awkward void.
But the problem is, you may have no idea what the hell you are talking about. Somehow, you instantly turn into a professor on the topic, and out of thin air, you grab at any piece of info that you saw in the news related to that topic, trying to sound brilliant. Then they look at you like you have worms wriggling out of your ears.
Don’t worry. It’s okay to admit you don’t know a lot about certain subjects. Don’t pretend. Instead, show some interest in learning more about topics that people want to talk about. It makes you appear more genuine and real, and then you don’t come off as a pompous jackass.
It makes people much more easy going when you want to hear about things that interest them, and knowing that you are showing a real interest in their topic makes them see you are a good listener, which is a highly underrated quality.
2. Trying too hard.
People can sense this immediately, especially if you walk up to a small group of people too fast and try to blend in with their conversation. And the first thing out of your mouth is “Oh ya, me too, right? I hate it when that happens!” Whoa there! Calm down and give it a minute before you take on the role of the All-Powerful, All-Knowing Mr. Inflatable Relatable!
Listen for a bit and try to blend in gradually. Usually a smile or a simple nod will do at first, and it will let the group know you want to engage in their conversation and that you’ve experienced something to what they are talking about, without you even having to say a word. Ease into it and everyone will appreciate that.
3. Correcting someone on word choice or using the wrong word.
Imagine you’re having a conversation about something that just happened in the news. While making your point, someone mispronounces a word, and you interject, “Well, actually, you’re supposed to say it like this…” And there you are, in the middle of 5 people, and this person just stopped her story.
Sure, it had nothing to do with the point she was making, but you went on to say, “Oh, sorry to interrupt. Just wanted to make sure you knew the right word to use.” How would you feel? On one hand, you may think it’s nice to tell them the RIGHT way to say the word.
But did you really need to do that right in front of all those people? Probably not. Best to save it until after the group conversation and nonchalantly mention it if you really feel it’s important.
Just for good measure so that you will be prepared the next time you speak, here are some examples:
- 13 Common Words You Are Probably Mixing Up
- 21 More Common Phrases Even Smart People Screw Up
- 25 Common Phrases That You’re Saying Wrong
- 15 Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Silly
4. Taking things personally.
Social situations are often playful, right? You know how you become friends with someone so well that you can insult them with just about any lame old joke, and they will think it’s hilarious because you are both really great friends. And the other one can dish it out right back to you with the same venom, but it’s okay because it’s just good fun, and you understand each other.
You have that unwritten rule of good friendship that just allows you to do that. That’s the best kind of relationship to have. But what about that person who you don’t know very well, and you just became the butt of their zinger? The first thing running through your mind could be “What did she mean by THAT?” It could be just harmless fun, but what if it isn’t?
Photo Credit: blogs.psychcentral.com
Do yourself a favor and take a step back. Give that person the benefit of the doubt and always assume positive intent (unless it is glaringly obvious that it isn’t). Chances are, they are only trying to be witty. It may be slightly at your expense, but it’s probably not intentionally hurtful. The best thing you can do is laugh it off, and maybe even agree with them in your own witty way (such as, “Ya, I do tend to dive a bit hard on the field. Just ask my soccer team when I have to dig the clumps of grass out of my teeth after a big play.”) See? You played it up in a fun way, and made a funny visual out of it. Graceful!
5. Being ashamed that you are lonely and showing it.
Being ashamed of “not having enough friends” or “not having the right kind of friends” is a recipe for loneliness and depression. This can only lead to intense and long lasting feelings of insecurity, anxiety, and being overly sensitive to perceived failure and rejection. If you let it go too long, people can pick that up in a second when you enter a room.
Believe it or not, you may be wearing your emotions on your sleeve, and you don’t want to show how afraid you are. Use a drink as a buffer and get in there. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself to succeed, and just relax.
Loneliness is only temporary if you keep trying to engage with people. Being alone has it’s place, and there is nothing wrong with it, if you need some time away from people to recharge. But do NOT become too good at distracting yourself with loneliness and feelings of insecurity. It tends to have a toxic affect over time.
6. Giving up way too quickly.
You’ve heard of “Three times is a charm”, right? Well, double that in a social setting. Hell, triple it! The bigger the crowd, the more times you can expect to bottom out on a conversation. But just when you think you’ve bombed for the last time, you finally bump into that person who just “gets” you! They know and get your quirky humor.
They wait for you to finish your story because they know EXACTLY what you are talking about, and the conversation is magic! They know how to interject at just the right moments without interrupting you. It’s a one-to-one. A win-win. Don’t give up. Hang in there, and you will eventually find people that can relate to you in this manner. You know what they say…when you least expect it, BAM! There she is!
Photo Credit: Craig Dennis
7. Being negative and picky about other people’s personalities.
This one is the worst! I’ve been guilty of this so many times. At times, I get really negative about people and get completely absorbed in my own head, thinking that people aren’t worthy of my attention because they are, well… “weird”. If you are also guilty of this, I have news for you…WE ARE ALL WEIRD! That’s what makes us interesting! Embrace the weirdness in yourself, and embrace the weirdness in others.
You know who this reminds me of? Jerry Seinfeld! Did you ever notice that Jerry could never hold on to a girlfriend or any other close friends other than George, Elaine, and Kramer? He was always extremely picky about who he dated and who he kept friendly company with. George, Elaine, and Kramer did the same thing, because they were just like him! They were the only ones who could stand being in his company, and vice versa.
On his show, there were a bunch of quirky minor characters. There was the low talker, the high talker, the closer talker, the subway nudist, the girl who ate peas one at a time with a fork, the understudy, the zealous mechanic, the hello kisser, the Drake, the Wiz, the Rabbi, the old man, the lip reader, the psychiatrist, “Mulva”, Jimmy, Vincent, Newman, Tony, Puddy, Banya, Crazy Joe Davola, the bubble boy, the dentist, the library cop, and the soup nazi (to name a few)! He just couldn’t accept people for their weirdness, and no one was good enough for him.
Well, we can all laugh at Jerry’s insecurities because we know it’s not real, and it makes for really good comedy. But in real life, you don’t want to be a Seinfeld. People could perceive you as being an asshole, and that’s not a good place to be. Nobody is perfect. Learn to accept people with all of their great qualities and beautiful imperfections. All kinds of people are worthy of your attention, and you are worthy of their attention.
8. Becoming a little too good at distracting yourself with devices.
This is a big NO NO! When you are at a social event trying to meet people, stay alert and watch for signals. You can’t do that when your eyes are pealed on the latest text, Facebook update, Snapchat post, or Tweet every 2 seconds. Some people think it makes you look important to always be gawking at your smartphone to pass the time.
Photo Credit: www.norad4u.com
But what it really tells people is that you are so insecure…so desperate, that you can’t even take a break from your device addiction to look up and see that someone may want to engage you in a real conversation. Ya know, like a face to face real conversation…without an electronic device 6 inches in front of your face. Human interactive conversation…oh ya, it’s a real thing. Who knew, right? Put the damn phone away and look at people!
9. Messing up the first impression.
Let’s face it. Making a good first impression is awesome. It feels great. And with job interviews, it can even be critical. With some people, making a good impression on them doesn’t even feel awkward or embarrassing, just because they are just warm and engaging to begin with. You can get lucky sometimes. But even if you hit it out of the park and end up making an excellent first impression, it will never be perfect.
Photo Credit: www.thefangirlinitiative.com
So take a load of pressure off yourself, and forget about a perfect first impression. Instead, concentrate on making an excellent first impression. And you will only be able to do that by being yourself. Some of the greatest people I ever met and become friends and colleagues with, were built off impressions that were not so great at first.
It was actually the second or third time we talked that made the greatest impression with me. Like any good friendship or relationship, it takes time to build. The trick is to notice at that first meeting if the other person saw something in you that was worth seeing again. If you made a connection, you’ll know it by one or both of you wanting to connect again. Then make that happen.
10. Thinking people are always judging you.
This way of thinking only leads to failure even before you even make an attempt at approaching someone. Guess what, judging happens. That’s what we do, whether it’s good or bad, right or wrong. People will judge you…for the way you look, the way you move, the way you dress, the way you carry yourself, the car you drive, for whatever reasons. It happens. Get over it.
Photo Credit: Tim Gouw
But don’t let judgments stop you. Instead, give people a whole bunch of reasons to make good judgments about you! Take some pride in your appearance and don’t walk around like a slob all the time. Smile at people when you see them, and greet them with a simple “Hey” or “How’s it going?” if nothing else. The simple things really matter, trust me! What you do and say to people affects them. So, make sure you are mindful to affect them in the best way possible.
Summing it Up
As I look around, I see people making similar mistakes when they communicate with people. Sometimes the mistakes are MUCH larger. But the result is always pretty much the same. One fact that keeps coming back to my mind is that people want to be liked. They want to make a good first impression, and they want to put their best foot forward, but for whatever reason, they do things like trying too hard or being a Know-It-All, and that only makes them fail.
I used to say, “Well, that’s just who they are.” I would accept it and move on. But then I started believing that you can learn to be good with people. It is a learned social skill that you can only get better with practice and experience. Now I believe that anyone can benefit from learning tools and techniques that help you get better with people.
Cover Photo Credit: http://manonthelam.com
What types of things do you see out in the world? What kinds of mistakes did you make when you were learning? Are you still making mistakes and still learning? We all have great stories to tell that could help other people, so feel free to share your story in the comments section!
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