You’ve just spotted a girl from work in the produce section of the supermarket. She’s standing next to the asparagus. What was her name again? You only ever speak with her at the coffee machine… mostly about the weather and the weekend. If only you knew how to not be awkward in situations like this.
You quickly look the other way. Maybe she hasn’t seen you yet.
Your default response is to avoid social awkwardness at all costs… but is that really the best strategy? And how could you be less awkward in these situations if you faced them head on?
How To Not Be Awkward With A Co-Worker
The above situation feels awkward because you don’t know what to say to coffee-machine girl when you’re not at the coffee machine. That’s the thought that’s going through your mind.
Let’s call that thought your awkward elephant. He’s panicking and he wants to get out, but you’re doing everything you can to keep him in. To hide him.
You ignore him and try to talk about something else, like this…
You: Oh heyyy, I’m good. How are you?
Her: Yeah I’m good. Just getting some groceries.
You: Cool, me too. Ahh… what are you buying?
Her: Ahh… some noodles, and some veg. What about you?
You: Nice, ahh… I’ve got some chicken.
Your awkward elephant still wants to get out, but you’re determined to suppress him. You can’t think of anything else to say though, because he’s stealing all of your attention.
You: K, see ya… (*facepalm*)
You made this situation weird because what you said was incongruent with what was going on in your head.
You didn’t expect to see coffee-machine girl here and you don’t know what to talk to her about in this new environment because you don’t know if you have anything in common. THAT’s what’s going on in your head, right? So acknowledge that, like this…
Her: Heyyy, haha. Yeah, it’s so strange.
Just by saying that, you’ve let out your awkward elephant… and you’ve made the situation less weird.
Your awkwardness comes from hiding what you’re really thinking. From suppressing it. And now that you don’t need to hide it anymore, the awkwardness fades.
It’s not that you couldn’t think of anything to say before. It’s just that you didn’t realise you could use the thoughts that were actually going through your head. So what else is in there, along the same lines?
Her: Yeah some of the girls on our team go out for drinks now and then.
You: Is that so you can gossip about all the guys when they’re not around? ;)
Whenever you can’t think of anything to say… let your elephant out. You’ll immediately feel more comfortable because he stops rampaging and makes the entire situation less awkward.
How To Not Be Awkward In A Job Interview
You’re at a job interview. The interviewer opens with, “What makes you the right fit for the job?”
You aren’t sure what the best answer would be and you don’t want to mess it up. That’s what’s going through your head. That’s your awkward elephant.
But you suppress your elephant and rattle off a list of the same generic skills that everyone mentions…
Your social awkwardness in this situation prevents you from standing out and actually connecting with the person interviewing you… because you’re too busy trying to hide your awkward elephant. That’s not how you talk to someone on a meaningful level.
So how do you let your elephant out and connect with the interviewer? Something like this perhaps…
Her: Well we’re a small team and we don’t really have time to train you. So we need to know that you can teach yourself everything on your own. Have you ever done anything like that?
Now you feel less awkward about answering because you’re not just guessing what she wants to hear. You let out your elephant and, as per usual, it helped guide you toward the best answer.
How To Not Be Awkward On A Date
One final example. You’re at the end of a first date and you think it went well. As you walk her to her car, that scary thought pops into your head: Should I kiss her?
Your elephant starts going wild.
Does she want me to kiss her? Is it too soon? What if she pulls away?
You ignore him and mumble something about how good the burgers were. You miss the moment and say your goodbyes.
But what if you let your elephant out?
Your Future Lover: I don’t bite.
Now you have your answer, and you’re not anxious anymore.
*FYI* Not quite as smooth as wordlessly putting your hand on her cheek and looking into her eyes as you get closer… but light years better than not going for the kiss at all because you’re too anxious.
Overcoming Social Awkwardness
Whenever you feel that familiar panic, stop suppressing your anxious thoughts. (Here’s another tip for overcoming social anxiety). Because you won’t out-muscle your awkward elephant.
Just say what’s on your mind, let him out, and feel the awkwardness fade.