From Hiding to Shining: Mastering Social Awkwardness Like A Pro

From Hiding to Shining: Mastering Social Awkwardness Like a Pro

3 women looking at middle woman's phone all smiling

Introverts often make the greatest friends and colleagues as we usually much prefer and seek deeper, more meaningful conversations and connections built on trust and mutual respect. We also tend to prefer spending time alone or in small, intimate groups rather than large social gatherings, so we can struggle to connect with others on a purely superficial level, and therefore we can feel or appear to be socially awkward in certain environments.

Here are 3 reasons why that makes some social situations challenging for us:

  • We get exhausted when we have to pretend to be extroverted to fit in - the introvert hangover is a real thing
  • We beat ourselves up for not having the networking smarts to engage in superficial conversation
  • We can be sensitive to external stimuli such as noisy or chaotic environments that make it difficult to hear or focus and therefore engage

This makes it difficult to start or maintain conversations, causing us to stumble over our words or to just clam up. Then we start to beat ourselves up, we become self conscious, sometimes blushing uncontrollably, and that leads to an overall sense of awkwardness.

But it doesn't have to be that way. There are ways to bring our authentic selves to social situations, where we can enjoy meaningful connection, and maybe even enjoy ourselves!

Let’s take a look at each of these in turn to see what’s going on and what to do if you are thinking of avoiding or have no option but to join a large group social situation.

It is possible to enjoy social engagements and make meaningful connections!

Avoiding The Introvert Hangover

Young woman of colour wearing glasses with updo sat on own in cafe looking at her phone, Two men in forground at another table talking

As introverts, we get the energy we need to embrace life from within ourselves, and we need time alone to recharge our batteries after being out in the world where our energy gets depleted. So we can often feel drained when we are around a lot of people, particularly when it's for extended periods of time. If we do not get enough time to recharge after being with larger groups, or being in environments that require us to fit in or act in ways that our not natural to us, we can experience what is known as an introvert hangover.

It's called a hangover because the negative effects of this energy depletion include feelings of fatigue or irritability, difficulties in sleeping due to over-stimulation, and even body aches and pains. When experienced for extended periods of time without any adequate respite, the impact can lead to exhaustion or burnout.

So it's important that as an introvert, you take care of yourself by balancing socializing and external stimulation with adequate alone time to prevent the likelihood of an introvert hangover. And prevention is the ideal, to get ahead of the game and take charge of managing your internal state.

A quick and easy way to do this is to be very protective of your calendar. Be clinical about assessing the energy you are likely going to exert for the various meetings, events and family needs and commitments you have in your schedule over the coming few weeks. Then make sure you carve out regular periods of time specifically for recharging your batteries in whatever ways are important to you. Another prevention mechanism is to be choosy about the additional group and social events you commit to. Unless you are an introvert who has specifically designed a life that enables you to be completely in charge of your time, chances are you have to juggle your time with the time others need from you. So get comfortable negotiating to ensure your needs are met as much as their needs are - it's hard to be there for others if your batteries aren't fully charged!

“Manage your calendar to ensure you have time to recharge your batteries

Finding Meaning In The Superficial

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As introverts, we have powerful inner worlds that are often as vivid as, if not more than the outside world. When we are alone, we are free to explore the depth and breadth of our thoughts, ideas, feelings, intuitions and inspirations.

So we tend to be more introspective and thoughtful, which can sometimes make it difficult for us to come up with quick responses or engage in small talk. We usually prefer deeper, more meaningful conversations and so we can struggle to connect with others on a superficial level.

The key then is to gently turn the conversation into a meaningful one! When we start to ask deeper questions about the subject, we can expand the context to something we are knowledgeable about, or at the very least, demonstrate our listening abilities and quiet intelligence. Another part to this is staying openminded to the people we are conversing with. When we show interest in what people are talking about, it builds connection. Think about a time when someone has shown real interest in you and your ideas and opinions. How did you feel? When we hold ourselves back and don’t contribute or show any interest, that’s how we can get the reputation for having nothing to say, or for being aloof or bored. When we know someone is present with us and interested, it feels good and builds trust, the essential component of connection.

Questions are a great way to take the conversation deeper

Recognize When You're Struggling

White male with beard in suit looking thoughtfully to one side outside of meeting

Because we so enjoy being in our powerful inner, feeling worlds, as introverts we can feel disconnected from the external environment when we emerge. Our feelings are our radar, our internal mechanism that guides our way. If something feels off, we pick it up straightaway. If the environment is loud or chaotic, we can experience a sensory overload. Both of these can lead to us feeling uncomfortable or anxious, which all adds to the awkwardness we can feel in social situations. We may also be more sensitive to the emotions of others, as well as our own emotions. We can become deeply affected by the emotions of the people around us, which can be overwhelming if we don't recognize what's going on for us.

When we struggle to feel comfortable in a social situation, there are a couple of quick things we can do. First, check in with ourselves, “Am I unsafe or in any danger here?” Assuming the answer is “No.”, there is something within us that we can resolve. Any feelings of not being valuable or significant, interesting or engaging, are limiting beliefs we hold about ourselves that are not true. Taking some deep breaths, and choosing to switch our mindset can make all the difference between having a great time, or clock-watching to see when we can escape. Next, we can take a moment to assess the environment, and identify spaces or people where there is less noise or chaos. In a room of extroverts, there will be some introverts! Seek out those who look like they are having a similar experience or who can empathize with how you are feeling. We also do not need to stay in a loud, high energy environment longer than is necessary. If we can’t hear ourselves think, or cannot hear what’s being discussed because everyone’s talking over each other, it can make it really challenging to stay engaged. We can give the social situation an allotted amount of our time – the key is to find a way to engage as fully as we can during that time.

Check out our 'In The Moment' worksheet The 4 Steps To Shine In Meetings for a quick way to process feelings in real time.

Be kind to yourself, and let others know what's going on for you

From Hiding To Shining

It's time to get past the idea that you are somehow at fault for feeling awkward in social situations. Remember, the world has evolved to favour the needs of extroverts. And this isn't inclusive. We have the opportunity as introverts to retain our energetic power in groups, while helping educate others that some people have different social needs.

Start by valuing who you are and what you can bring to conversations, while respecting and protecting your energy. How can you shift the dialogue into a conversation of substance? How can you use your powers of empathy and listening to connect with the people you are speaking with?

Here are five quick ways as an introvert you can overcome awkwardness in social situations, and bring your light into the room.

  1. Embrace your personality: Remember that being an introvert is not a weakness! It’s actually a powerful way of being in today’s world as we pick up on many of the complexities through our exploration and insights. So it's ok to be yourself. Embrace your personality, strengths, and unique qualities, and use them to build meaningful connections with others. When you're comfortable with who you are, you're more likely to feel confident and authentic in social situations.
  2. Look for meaning: What’s the purpose of this social event? How can you tap into its value for you? Perhaps it’s good for your career, or perhaps you are supporting a friend or family member. Seek and find joy in the potential for meaningful connection.
  3. Be kind to yourself: Us introverts often have an inner critic that can hold us back in social situations. It’s important to do the inner work to recognize the stories we tell ourselves that aren’t true. In time, with practice, you can create new neuropathways that tell the new stories! Also, remember back to an event where you felt good and found it easy to engage – what was going on in that situation, how can you shift yourself into the mindset to engage in a similar way?
  4. Focus on others: One of the key qualities we have as introverts is that we tend to be great listeners and observers, and focusing on others can help us shift the attention away from ourselves. Ask insightful questions to show your interest in the conversation and in the experience and ideas of the people you are conversing with. Lean in physically to the conversation so your non-verbal body language lines up and demonstrates your engagement.
  5. Take breaks: It's ok to take breaks during social situations so you can recharge. Excuse yourself for a few minutes to take a walk, use the restroom, or simply find a quiet spot to breathe and relax. This can help you feel more centered and less overwhelmed, particularly in loud or high energy environments.

With these techniques, introverts can shine in social situations and build meaningful connections with others. Remember, social situations may be challenging, but they can also be rewarding and enjoyable with a little practice and self-confidence.

Click here to download your free ‘In The Moment’ guide to shine in meetings – specific steps to take during meetings that bring your quiet intelligence into the spotlight.