I recently spearheaded a workshop for a local teens group and was struck by their shyness and other signs of awkwardness. Today's blog addresses some of the issues facing teens and young adults today as they make their way into social situations where they HAVE to interact with others.
How difficult is it to simply meet someone new at a party or gathering, get acquainted and part with good feelings? It can be hard when you don't think about what you're doing and you are feeling socially awkward. You can make jokes at the wrong time, make the wrong decisions about offering praise and act too confident, all in an attempt to be liked.
Here's what you might be doing wrong and what you can do better.
Social Mistake #1 - Trying to find common ground through complaining
Many people try breaking the ice with the person sitting next to them by complaining about something. They feel that they feel could establish common ground by sharing a gripe that the other person may have sympathy for. They've seen Seinfeld monologues in which the comedian launches into funny complaints about the Olympics, junk food, cigarettes, travel or anything else, all to applause. Unfortunately, what works for a standup routine doesn't work for personal relationships.
When people come to see a comedian, they are already receptive to listening to his complaints - they've paid for it. With the stranger sitting next to you, though, trying complaints out as a way to find common ground runs the risk of sounding negative. Rather than try to introduce yourself to someone by making fun of tasteless catered food or tacky party music selections, then, it could be a better idea to try coming up with ideas for what would be good party music or catered food. It can make a huge difference to a stranger listening to you whether you say, "Seriously, who comes up with these playlists" instead of "The beat on Need U (100%) sure would work for this party right now."
Social Mistake #2 - Pretending that you don't know anything about the person you're meeting when you do
With social media connecting everyone today, it isn't unusual to know something about the people you run into at parties and gatherings through Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter or something. When you meet someone whom you know through their social media presence, though, your first instinct can often be to not say anything about it. You can hold back about what you know for a number of reasons - you might worry that it looks disturbingly like stalking to know a lot about someone who isn't a friend. You might be uncomfortable about having to come up with praise for what they've said or posted when you don't really feel much admiration, too.
Whatever your reasons, it isn't a good idea to pretend that you don't know someone when you do know them. It can be difficult to hide anything on social media. Even if you don't admit that you've read a person's posts on Facebook, it's possible that they know that you have.
If you're meeting someone for the first time but you know them through their social media presence, it would be a good idea to acknowledge it. A word of praise in moderation wouldn't be out of place, either. People do love to be followed, Liked and Pinned, after all.
Social Mistake #3 - Not knowing when to tone the confidence down
Standing up straight, looking people in the eye and acting fearless in general can make a strong impression at a job interview or when meeting people for negotiations. It may not make the right kind of impression on a date, though. It isn't the best idea when you want to introduce yourself to new people in social situations, either. If you are the confident type, you don't need to put your strength on display in a social situation. You can simply let it show through in whatever way it will.
In social situations, you need to exclude other kinds of quality to strike up friendships. Projecting trust, for instance, would be a good idea. According to Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy, projecting trust is a better idea if you're trying to break the ice and make friends. If you come off as someone who easily trusts people, you'll attract easy friendships. If you're trusting, innocent and accepting, you can draw in people who want to be understood.
Social Mistake #4 - Introducing the wrong person first
If you have an important person in the room that you wish to introduce your friend to, would you bring your friend up and then proceed to first say, "This is School President Williams?" Many people do make this mistake - they keep the important person waiting to be introduced, while they tell their friend who they are. The important person wonders if he isn't important enough to be spoken to, first. The rule, rather, should be to first speak to the most important person in the gathering. Not keeping him waiting is what matters.
Social Mistake #5 – Hiding in Your Cell Phone
If after practicing these tips you still feel socially awkward do resist the urge to hide in your phone by playing games, checking texts or even texting someone in the same room. This kind of behavior shuts you our immediately from meeting others. They can see you are not interested in engaging. This doesn’t help your cause to make new friends or meet others – instead it signals non-verbally to others that you are indeed awkward. Put the phone away, shut it off and take a step toward meeting one new person in the room.
Keep practicing engaging with others in social situations and you will learn to avoid social mistakes that work against you. Stay friendly and at ease and soon you will find that others are drawn to you as you engage them in correct conversation with skilled social etiquette.