Some of us are cool. The rest of us, uh, are reading this article while eating lunch alone at our desks for the second week in a row.
Social finesse doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and it’s impossible to learn it overnight. But there are lots of little things you can do to build up your people skills so that you feel more confident at the end of the day. And when you let that confidence build up, we can guarantee you that you won’t feel socially awkward at all.
Continue reading to see our easy “lifehacks” to bypass your awkwardness:
1. When making small talk, practice FORD
If there’s one thing awkward people absolutely dread, it’s small talk. How do you connect with a total stranger? How do you move from one topic to another?
It’s simple. Use FORD: Family/Family, Occupation, Recreation, Dreams. Think of a couple generic questions for each category and then get started. Once you get past talk of the weather, you can ask the person about any of these things and the conversation will eventually take off.
“But wait! Aren’t these topics kind of…personal?” you ask. Not necessarily. Keep in mind that most people LOVE talking about themselves. You want to come off as interested, not nosy, so keep your questions as inoffensive as possible. For starters:
- “How long have you worked at this company?”
- “How did you get into this line of work?”
- “Have you been watching the World Cup?”
- “Do you have any children?” (In the day and age of smartphones, it’s so easy for the person to whip out his phone and start showing off his kids. Problem solved).
2. Practice Cognitive Reframing
Cognitive Reframing is a psychological technique that helps change the way you perceive bad situations. Making conversation is stressful. And we all know the physical symptoms of stress: an increased heart rate, sweaty palms, and a sour stomach. But did you ever notice how similar these are to symptoms of extreme excitement? This is exactly how you would physically feel before getting on a roller coaster or going on a date with someone you really like. So the next time you have to make friends in a room full of strangers, think of the experience as a challenge, not a threat. Our brains are programmed to go into “fight or flight” mode, so start thinking of awkward small talk as something you can tackle, not something you should avoid.
3. Don’t do dinner dates
Dates are nerve-wrecking enough when you’re socially adept, let alone when you’re a little bit shy. So instead of meeting at a restaurant, where you’ve bee invariably forced to make awkward small talk in a closed space for two hours, go somewhere with a lot of activity so that you can draw experience from your surroundings. Bowling, skating, the zoo, the park, and the museum all work wonders when you need to break the ice. And if you do take a woman out to dinner, make sure it’s a restaurant you have been to before. Nothing’s weirder than when she asks you what’s good, only for you to reply that you don’t know
4. For job interviews, keep in mind that the interviewer wants you to succeed
Once again, cognitive reframing. Too many of us walk into a job interview as if it we were being questioned by the court of law. Instead of treating your interview like an interrogation, keep in mind that the interviewer isn’t looking for ways to judge you or take you down – he’s looking for signs that you are right for the job. You being the right person makes him job that much easier. So be confident. Talk to the interviewer as if you were catching up with an old friend of your parents’. You can even talk like you’ve already gotten the job and are simply discussing whether or not it’s really the right fit. You might feel nervous upon noticing that the interviewer is taking notes. Instead of wondering whether he’s writing everything you did wrong, focus on telling him interesting and useful things about yourself so he actually has something to write.
5. Use the “Man’s Best Friend” effect when approaching people
One of the reasons people love dogs is that they’re always psyched to see you. No matter how bad you’re feeling, you can’t help being charmed by your pet’s unbridled enthusiasm and love for you. Practice the same thing with people. We mirror each other’s body language and emotions. If you act happy and excited to see someone, he will more than likely feel happy and excited to see you. Act happy and excited to see them, they will feel happy to see you. If you act nervous and weird, he’ll act nervous and weird in return (think about it: when was the last time you felt happy and relaxed around someone who refused to make eye contact with you? Now compare that to how you feel when someone smile, introduces himself, and acts like you’re just the best).
If you’re wondering whether this will come across as fake, well, the answer is no. A recent article in The Economist cited a study conducted by Jennifer Chatman at the University of California, Berkeley, who tried to figure out if there was a point where flattery stopped being effective. There wasn’t. In general, people aren’t that suspicious (at least not to your face). No matter how excited you are, they will still respond in kind knowing that you already like them.
6. Walk into a room assuming that everyone likes you.
We don’t remember where we heard this (probably from a cool older sibling – or, fine, a Reddit thread about developing social graces), but it’s incredibly effective. One of the reasons we feel awkward is that we’re worried about how other people perceive us. Ever notice how you can talk to your family and close friends for hours on end even though you’re incapable of handling more than five minutes of small talk? That’s because you can think better when you’re not feeling self-conscious. Treat people with the same familiarity and ease you use when you’re around your BFFs, and you’ll radiate a life and confidence that will bypass all your discomfort.
6. Remember that “cool” people aren’t more interesting than you are
Don’t expect all conversations to be interesting. People who are “cool” or “popular” aren’t necessarily more interesting than you, and a lot of their conversations are boring as well – it’s just that they know how to manage their expectations and realize that people aren’t always interesting. One of the reasons we get awkward and neurotic is that we worry about everything we say: “Do I sound dumb? Am I making sense? Do these people even care what I’m talking about?” The difference between you and a cool person is that the cool person is confident and relaxed. Sometimes his stories bomb or people roll their eyes at his jokes, but you know what? That’s okay. It doesn’t make him a loser. It just makes him person. Accept that you’ll have your lame moments, remind yourself that nobody cares, and then jump in.
7. Practice “power posing”
As soon as you finish this article, look up psychologist Amy Cuddy’s “Power Posing” TED Talk and prepare to be amazed. We all know that body language affects how other people see us, but it can also change how we see ourselves. Simply changing your posture for a couple of minutes can raise your cortisol and testosterone levels, thus making you more confident. According to a study by the Harvard Business School, the latter increases by an average of 20 per cent.
So what’s an example of a weak pose versus a power pose? Putting your hand on your face or neck is a “low-power” pose because it makes you feel like you are protecting yourself. On the other hand, doing the “Wonder Woman” pose (shoulders back, hands on your hips, legs pointed outward) will make you feel strong and assertive.
8. Wait at least one second before replying
Finally, RELAX. We know that it sounds naggy and annoying when people tell you that, but seriously – relaxation is the key to coolness.
Firstly, it makes you less reactive. Picture it this way. If a hot guy or girl suddenly came up to you and asked “is this seat taken?” and you went, “Oh! Are you talking to me? I’m not sure. Yes! I mean, no…” you would look a little too nervy (and the other person would, in turn, feel nervous). Relax and take just a second to think. A second might not feel very long, but it’s long enough for you to calm down and say a simple “No, go right ahead.”
And secondly, being relaxed means knowing that looking stupid is not a big deal. Every awkward person this nightmare of doing something completely dumb (like mispronouncing a word) and being laughed at, but if you laugh along with them, they will literally forget about it a day later. Ironically, getting defensive or angsting about the incident over and over again will make you look even less cool. So chill out! A swift recovery will look just as impressive as being cool 24/7.