How to Overcome Social Awkwardness

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What Is Social Awkwardness?

If you’re frequently the person who is literally tripping over themselves or sticking their foot in their mouth saying things they don’t mean to say, you might feel as though you’re socially awkward.

And often you’ll make things even more awkward by drawing attention to how awkward you are. 

Being socially awkward is not a diagnosis or disorder—and we will all be a little socially awkward at times.

But, what does it actually mean to be socially awkward?

One study looked at narratives of socially awkward situations to find the common thread. In most of the situations, the awkwardness involved some sort of perceived moral or social transgression that intensified the social situation and directed perceptions of the social behaviors.

The awkwardness was sometimes sudden, but often it is from something latent—some kind of tension that has been building. Those behaviors displayed awkwardness through anxious, hesitant or avoidant actions or body language cues.

Now that you have an idea of what social awkwardness may be defined as, here's some tips to help you overcome your fear of it.

How to Overcome Social Awkwardness

Social awkwardness may come and go, but the following tips will help you deal with it. However, if you feel like your perceived social awkwardness is profoundly affecting your life, you may want to talk to a therapist.

It's possible that you're dealing with social anxiety disorder and they can equip you with tools on how to cope with the awkwardness or anxiety.

Stay Present With the Discomfort

Your urge may be to check in with yourself, says Joel Minden, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist. “Accept that—and then redirect your attention and behavior to the other person. Socially effective people show interest in others and their interactions.”

You might do this by asking someone questions about themselves or sharing some information. This will serve to rebalance the situation and shift focus away from yourself.

Often in these situations, people want to resolve them immediately because they are so uncomfortable. However, all feelings—comfortable or uncomfortable—end, and ruminating on it will only extend the feeling longer than sitting with it would. 

Decide How to Respond

There are two major ways to respond to social awkwardness. One way is to just play it off like it never happened. The other is to laugh at yourself. Might this draw more attention to it? Maybe, but so what if it does?

Science shows that people who can poke a little bit of fun at themselves are generally more resilient and that, in awkward situations, addressing it can often restore the relative level of comfort that was present before.

Don't Let It Define You

So you tripped over your own feet and fell while you were on a date with someone you were really interested in. OK, it happens.

Often, when we experience a moment or situation of social awkwardness, we quickly spiral and automatically assign our worst fear to the event as meaning. No, you are not inherently unlovable because you happened to fall over yourself. 

Find the Source of Shame

Often, feelings of social awkwardness come from a source of shame—that one is not handling themselves as they “should.”

Consider yourself an investigator—where is this feeling of “should” coming from? Does it go back to your childhood? Is there a certain teacher or boss’ voice you’re hearing in your heard? 

Examine Your Perfectionism

Your (perceived) social awkwardness may stem from a deep-seated feeling of perfectionism, where you feel like you should be able to handle yourself in any social situation.

Do You Feel a Need to Be Perfect?

Sometimes, these feelings of social awkwardness can come from someone trying so hard to be perfect that they actually do the very thing they’re afraid of.

Look At It as a Learning Opportunity

You can look at it as a learning experience, says Minden. “Is it driven by how you think or feel about a situation? Or does it have more to do with the way you conduct yourself?” He suggests thinking about what a more comfortable social experience might feel like. 

For example, maybe cocktail parties with people you haven’t seen in a long time make you feel anxious. Some things you might be able to do to prepare yourself are to think of a few topics to bring up in conversation, such as how you know the host or your involvement with the organization.

Or maybe you’re self-conscious about your looks. Wear a special outfit if you can, or get your hair done—whatever makes you feel more confident, even if it feels silly to you.

“A person might also sense that an interaction is awkward if there’s a clear disconnect between their own and others’ styles of interaction,” says Minden, so if you often find yourself in these types of situations, you might want to examine if your interpersonal communication style is effective or if there are some skills you can work on to get your thoughts across clearer.

Take Into Account Cultural Differences

There may be cultural differences at play. If you're speaking with someone from another country, their social cues and behaviors may differ from yours and vice versa and it's possible that each of you just naturally communicate differently.

Embrace the Awkwardness

Because of social media, we see more curated photos than ever—and some people aren’t afraid to embrace their awkwardness. In fact, the hashtag #sociallyawkward has been used more than 115,000 times on Instagram!

And plenty of celebrities have owned their awkwardness, from Jennifer Lawrence’s infamous fall up the stairs at the 2013 Oscars to Mindy Kaling’s book "Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?" which pokes fun at herself.

Celebrate the Wins

Whether you feel as though you were socially awkward in a given situation or not—celebrate yourself. You’ll either celebrate yourself for feeling confident or celebrate yourself for reminding yourself that you got through it. Sure, it felt awkward, but the world didn’t end.

Use Self-Care to Celebrate Yourself

Celebrate that, whether it be with a favorite snack or a bubble bath. You might even want to write down the experience so that you can either remember what you did for the next time or remember that you did get through this situation, even if it felt uncomfortable.

A Word From Verywell

Whether you feel like you’ve had a particularly socially awkward situation or you believe yourself to be a socially awkward person, try to have self compassion for yourself. You are a human, and humans aren’t always perfect—what fun would that be? 

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Clegg JW. The importance of feeling awkward: a dialogical narrative phenomenology of socially awkward situations. Qualitative Research in Psychology. 2012;9(3):262-278. doi:10.1080/14780887.2010.500357

  2. Torres Marin J, Navarro-Carrillo G, Carretero-Dios H. Is the use of humor associated with anger management? The assessment of individual differences in humor styles in Spain. Personality and Individual Differences. 2018;120:193-201. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2017.08.040

By Theodora Blanchfield, AMFT
Theodora Blanchfield is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and mental health writer.