We’ve all experienced it.
We’re in a group of people, at work or in our private life, and we start to feel a little uncomfortable.
Maybe we feel nervous. Or awkward. Or stressed. Or one of the other less-than-pleasurable feelings.
When this happens a lot of people either run away or kind of just shut down. They don’t say much, try to avoid interactions, and count the seconds for it all to be over.
Or they have another drink. And another. And another…
I probably don’t have to tell you why none of these strategies tend to be particularly good, do I?
So then, what do we do instead?
Well, there are lots of other strategies that will work better. The very best all tend to be long-term ones where we work on our social confidence and skills to minimize the times this happens, but let’s skip those today.
Today I figured I’d share my three favorite, and most effective, things to do in the moment when we feel socially awkward or uncomfortable.
Use one, two, or all three of these in combination, and it usually won’t take long until your discomfort is greatly reduced – and maybe even completely removed.
In 2015, Drs. Trew and Alden performed a study that showed that socially anxious undergraduates who performed acts of kindness in social situations, experienced a significant decrease in their desire to avoid social contact.
By simply doing something nice for someone else, they felt more at ease socially.
This technique has been shown to work well both while we’re in a social situation and feeling uncomfortable, and in the big picture.
That means that you can use it both to help yourself get more comfortable in the moment, and make a habit out of performing acts of kindness to reduce your social discomfort over time.
When we ask someone an open-ended question (where the answer won’t be a simple yes/no/maybe), a lot of positive things tend to happen. Here are the three most common ones:
Firstly, they will tend to take on most of the burden of talking, since it will generally take longer to answer the question than to ask it. This gives you some breathing room and reduces any pressure you might feel about what you should say.
Secondly, when you ask people questions about them, their expertise, or their experience, they will often feel seen and respected. This will usually encourage them to make an effort to return that respect, and when you notice them doing that, you’re likely to feel a bit more comfortable.
Thirdly, when we ask people open-ended questions about them or their experience, we’ll often stumble across things we both have an interest in. When that happens, we’ll often become distracted enough by this that we simply forget to be uncomfortable (see technique 3 for more on this).
A good way to practice this technique is to memorize a few generic questions on your own. That way you can pull them out whenever you need to without having to come up with new questions on the spot.
A couple of examples of this could be:
Create your own questions, and feel free to come up with a couple of different ones for different situations.
You might, for example, want to ask different questions on a date or with friends, than at a work conference.
(Bonus tip: Write the questions down on your phone. That way, if you can’t remember them when you need them, you can easily look them up. People will simply think you’re checking a text message.)
If you’ve watched any of my confidence courses, you already know this one.
Your nervousness, awkwardness, stress, and so on isn’t actually coming from the situation you’re in or the people around you. It is coming from the thoughts you have about the situation or the people.
If you feel nervous, it’s because your mind is sending you nervous thoughts. Thoughts that tell you negative things about the people, or the situation, or what everyone is thinking about you, and so on.
And even though you can’t actually control these thoughts, this is incredibly important to know.
You see, if you think your discomfort is coming from the situation or the people, then the only way for you to become more comfortable is for the situation or the people to change. (Or for you to get away from them.)
But when you realize that your discomfort is coming from your own thoughts, all that needs to change is your own thinking.
And that can happen at any moment, and will happen even faster and more often when you accept this truth. (And even faster again when you practice the other two tips I just gave you.)
I hope these help! And if you have any tips of your own, please come share them in this thread in my Facebook group.
Hi, I'm TJ Guttormsen.
Since 2009 I’ve coached clients ranging from Olympic gold medalists and billionaires, to people who simply want more out life.
I’ve done over 100 national media appearances, published books, and created online courses that have earned several “Highest Rated” titles from their 11 000+ members.
Today I coach clients from all over the world, and teach seminars for business and events from my home in Las Vegas.
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