Feeling a bit awkward or shy in certain situations is understandable. We all feel a little nervous before we head into a room of people we don’t know. But for some people, social awkwardness can lead to anxiety and avoidance.

This can be very frustrating and hard to overcome, but there are some practical things you can do to help overcome that feeling of awkwardness and feel more confident in social situations, both in business and your personal life.

From my own experience of having anxiety and shyness, I know what a challenge it can be. I used to avoid networking events and meetings altogether; making excuses not to go because…”too busy”…”too far”…”not the right event”.

It’s really important to step out of your comfort zone and do the things that scare you. Growth comes from challenging yourself.

“Coming out of your comfort zone is tough in the beginning, chaotic in the middle, and awesome in the end…because in the end, it shows you a whole new world! Make an attempt..”

Manoj Arora

Also, that social connection is so important, especially for solopreneurs who spend a lot of time working on their own.

Do I still get nervous? YES, of course. But I’m always glad I made the effort and I’ve made some wonderful friends and business connections in the process, all whilst enjoying the extra bonuses of growing in confidence and growing my business!

Here are some tips to help you overcome social awkwardness:

Prep Til You Drop

Not literally, of course, but preparation is key to confidence and avoiding awkwardness. Having a strategy in place will help you to feel more in control.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How will you get there?
  • Where can you park and do you need change for the parking machine?
  • Where is the meeting room?
  • Will there be refreshments? I’d always advise to take some water in case of dry mouth
  • Where are the nearest toilets?
  • What do you need in your bag? Diary, pen (take a spare, someone will thank you for it), mints, phone, tissues, notebook, business cards, rescue remedy etc.

By preparing as much as possible, you’ll avoid those last minute stressors which can send you into a panic and stop you in your tracks.

Mentally rehearse and visualise yourself looking and feeling calm and confident. Many of the top athletes use visualisation to help them win and it works.

Find a ‘Prop’

One thing that I found really useful is to have something to hold.

It used to be my children but they’re far too big to carry on my hip now! So instead, I have something in my hand or draped over my arm, such as a scarf, a planner, (colourful stationery is a great conversation starter), a water bottle, or a bag.

Smile & Be Approachable

It can be tempting to look down, avoid eye contact, or hide in a corner busying yourself looking at the noticeboard on a wall, but that definitely wont encourage people to come and talk to you. If anything it will deter them.

There’s something about seeing a warm smile that instantly makes others feel at ease, even if your behind your smile you’re feeling anxious.

There is some science behind all this, notably a study in the 1970’s by psychologist James Laird from Clark University.

Laird asked the participants in one study group to furrow their eyebrows and clench their teeth, as if they were angry. The other group were asked to draw up the corners of the mouth, as if they were smiling. The results were remarkable. The participants felt significantly happier when they forced their faces into smiles, and much angrier when they were clenching their teeth. This is called the ‘As If’ principle.

Find the ‘Others’ Like You

One thing I’ve learnt about being honest about my struggles with social awkwardness and anxiety, is that there are a LOT of people out there who feel the same.

If you see someone hiding in the corner, looking at the notice board, go over and say “Hi”. Admit you’re feeling a bit nervous and they’ll more than likely admit they are too.

You can join the Calmpreneur Facebook community if you’d like to find more others like you online – we can cheerlead you attending your next event!

Stay Til the End

You got to the meeting/event which is an amazing accomplishment in itself…but then it’s tempting to quietly slip away just before the end, right?

When the agenda is done and it feels like there’s no more purpose to the meeting, things can start to feel awkward again.

Anxious people often feel so uncomfortable in social situations that they just want it to end. Consciously resist the impulse to flee the minute you know things are wrapping up. No more “I need to get back to my car because my parking ticket runs out soon” excuses!

If you’re struggling to keep it together, you can always excuse yourself and head to the toilet to give yourself a pep talk and take a few deep breaths.

Tell yourself to be strong, stay put and wait. Some of the best conversations happen at the end of events/meetings and you’ll be so pleased you did it.

Quiet is OK

Firstly, if it goes quiet in the room, or the conversation you’ve been having has come to a natural close, you are not responsible for filling the silence.

Silence can sometimes be a trigger to speak without thinking, because you feel uncomfortable with the quiet. Ever been in a situation where you’ve kept babbling on, because silence just feels a bit #awkward? The problem is, when you start babbling, you’re more likely to feel even more awkward, because you worry about saying something silly or nonsensical.

Secondly, being a quiet person is OK…great in fact. People love to talk about themselves and if you leave some room for silence, it will give them the chance to speak with the most amazing active listener – YOU! And even if they feel awkward too, that silence gives them the opportunity to really think about what they want to say – it’s a win/win situation.

Get Support

Social anxiety disorder and social phobia are real disorders that may need the help of a professional. The difference between social awkwardness and these disorders is how much it affects your life. Social anxiety is an intense fear that doesn’t go away and affects everyday activities, self-confidence, relationships and work life.

If you can relate to that, it’s really important to get support. Go to your GP for advice as the first port of call and find support online.

I hope these tips helps you to overcome your shyness and social awkwardness. It’s worth bearing in mind that unless you tell people you’re nervous, it’s highly unlikely they’ll notice. Our perception of ourselves is often unforgiving. Be kind to yourself.

How to Overcome Social Awkwardness when Business Networking

Do you have any tips about overcoming social awkwardness? Please share them in the comments.

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