Managing awkward social encounters

imagesCAWJECTCConfession time: I have a rather bulky and unstable stack of magazines and books at my bedside and next to just about every chair in my home and office. I can’t help it. I’m an information junkie. And I love reading what other writers write (as well as how they write it). I keep the periodicals around far too long, according to many clutter-averse people. Okay, whatever. It won’t surprise you, then, that this post is a handy recap of an article I read LAST SPRING in Psychology Today.  In fact, the article written by Mary Loftus is the reason I purchased this particular issue – April 2013.  (You know how you’re standing in the checkout line and you start browsing through the magazines…)

The article a delicious mélange of shorter pieces on how to maneuver through awkward social encounters. So unless you never have those, I invite you to read on, take a few notes, and become enlightened. We are, as you well know, heading into the Holiday Season where your likelihood of having to mingle with family, friends, colleagues, co-workers, clients, and strangers — and the potential for awkward encounters and social blunders — is at its zenith.

Here we go:

  1. The quality of your everyday encounters, even the little ones, cumulate to impact your perception of your life. My interpretation: if your everyday encounters are chronically negative, weird, ugly, or unfriendly, you might perceive your entire life that way. Ouch.
  2. Said another way in the article, “even the most minute encounters can have large effects on our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.”
  3. Who you socialize with has a lot to do with #1 and #2.  Which is the main reason I wrote The Intentional Networker.  (Haven’t read it?  Put it at the top of your reading stack. Pronto.)  You deserve to be surrounded by cool, interesting, fun, caring people.
  4. Likewise, all that stress you feel, socially or otherwise, in your life?  You have control over that and how you respond to it. You can make changes. You can improve your skills, bolster your courage, and become more confident and comfortable. You can’t fix all of it, but you can fix some of it.
  5. When socializing, please, please, please remember: it’s not about you; it’s about others.
  6. The way you speak and what you say has a definitive effect on your relationships. Choose your words and tone carefully. We all can do better here. Myself included.
  7. If you have feedback, a critique, or a complaint to share, “skip the complaining and go straight to explaining.” Encouragement over b_tching or bullying will yield better results and is less likely to damage the other party and the relationship.
  8. You can actually create depression in other people if you are overly critical or criticize too often or too harshly. I guess that means I owe my child some therapy sessions.
  9. When someone offers you a compliment, simply smile and say “thank you.” Only one third of the population is gracious and savvy enough to do this.
  10. How you respond to a compliment can reveal your social confidence —  or social ineptitude.  Simply smiling and saying “thank you” is the best way to avoid looking like you are too full of yourself  — or a self-loathing nincompoop.
  11. My special caveat to #9 and #10: women like to share with each other where they got those amazing Gucci shoes for only $15.  It’s okay. We just do that. Part of the female bonding process.
  12. Want to offer a compliment or praise someone else? How you do it matters.  Be specific, sincere and generous, especially to people with whom you work.  Science tells us that the brain equates receiving sincere and specific praise about your work and how hard you work to receiving money. And it costs nothing. (Seems like a good time to insert one of my favorite quotes from my mother:  “It doesn’t cost a penny to be gracious.”)
  13. Thinking a social situation is a great time to debate, persuade, or change someone’s mind? The article has some tips on that, but I say save such semi-arguing for another time.  Especially during the Holiday Season.  It’s a time already fraught with tension.
  14. Likewise, if you’re thinking that a social situation is prime time to sell something please resist the urge!  People generally will be repelled. Possibly even offended.
  15. Owe someone an apology? Get on with it. Eat crow while it’s warm.
  16. The steps to a good apology:  Express regret. Say what you did (or didn’t do). Take responsibility. Promise not to do it again. Ask what you can do repair the damage.
  17. Insincere apologies are worse than none at all.
  18. Women apologize more than men. Why? Because men see fewer things that require an apology. (I can hear all you women out there laughing right now!)
  19. Have a complaint?  First, know what you’re complaining about. Second, figure out who can help you. Next, pull yourself together and be polite, calm, civil. Then make your request.  Follow up with gratitude if the problem is solved.  Honestly, you don’t have to be a jerk or throw a temper tantrum to get what you want.
  20. Small talk is your ticket.  To explain, 40% of the population would rather scrub toilets than go to a cocktail party. Well, not really. I made that up. But the 40% number is accurate.  Many people really detest going to social gatherings.  The key to having fun or at least feeling less awkward is learning how to engage in small talk. This generally leads into bigger, more engaging, and easier flowing conversations.  Okay, and alcohol helps here as well.
  21. Practice engaging in small talk everyday. Give yourself a goal. Once a day. Twice a day. You can strike up a quick chat in the coffee shop line, grocery store line, at the dog park, gym, or wherever. Ask people how they are, comment on something they are wearing, doing, reading, consuming.  Ask an easy, uncreepy question.  Join conversations already in progress — but not if there are only two people conversing. That’s a rule I learned from my friend and socializing expert Jan Goss.
  22. Be nice, but not brilliant.  Don’t try to be the smartest person in the room and don’t yammer on too long about one subject. (That, my friends, is another formula for driving people away.)
  23. Be courageous. You don’t make new friends by avoiding social events, cowering in the corner, never saying anything, or clinging to people you already know.  That’s so very eighth grade.  You’re better than that.
  24. My final tip: awkward is as awkward does. Even if  you’re in an awkward or semi-awkward situation, rise above it. Diffuse it. Forgive it. Pretend it didn’t happen. Move on. You’ll help put everyone else at ease and they can get back to enjoying themselves.
  25. I leave this bonus tip for you to fill in. What’s your favorite socializing tip?  What helps you feel more at ease, soothes awkward or unpleasant encounters, or makes it easy for you to make new friends among strangers?

To conclude I’m going to state the obvious: the Holidays are coming. Want a great gift idea for your colleagues, clients, college-age kids or even friends or family members?  Give them a copy of The Intentional Networker. A recent reader wrote to me and said she wished she’d read my book 30 years ago.  Wow!  30 years of struggling with things I can help you maneuver through with ease and grace! Wouldn’t it be great to give the people you care about the gift of a 30-year head start on some helpful socializing wisdom?  Order on Amazon today or through your favorite online retailer. That is all. Catch you next time!

 

 

7 Responses to Managing awkward social encounters
  1. Nick Weynand
    November 15, 2013 | 11:11 am

    Great article (especially for an awkward socializer like myself). My tip: Ask questions when making small talk. You’ll learn a lot, it will keep the conversation going and the person who’s answering will feel great about themselves.

    • pattid
      November 15, 2013 | 1:32 pm

      Hey Nick! Great tip! Yes, asking questions is a great way to break the ice. Some good ones to get you started, say at a networking or social event: What brought you here? How did you hear about this event? How do you know the organizers / hosts? Is this your first time to attend? What’s new in your world? Many more!

  2. pattid
    November 16, 2013 | 8:22 am

    P.S. Nick, you are not socially awkward! You are friendly, gracious and thoughtful!

  3. donna
    November 16, 2013 | 9:31 pm

    this reminds me of a trick a previous employer taught me in my first sales job in a shoe store…. he said never walk up to a customer and ask “may I help you?” he said walk up and start a conversation about anything but shoes…. comment on the weather, what they are wearing, their hairstyle, anything but a question they are going to say “no” to automatically…… it worked every time…. this was very helpful to a 17 year old who had never dealt with the public before… You can always find something to talk to someone about even if it the color of the ground or sky above you…. I believe my next best friend is just a conversation away… or across the street

    • pattid
      November 17, 2013 | 11:34 am

      Really good advice, Donna! Forgot what our first conversation was about, but I’m sure you initiated it. You have such wonderful social skills! Thanks for sharing your story and tip!

  4. SueAnn
    November 20, 2013 | 7:21 am

    # 25.
    Say something that makes everyone laugh (at no one else’s expense).

    Great article Patti – as always!

    SueAnn

    • pattid
      November 20, 2013 | 9:05 am

      Good tip, SueAnn! The trick is the part in parentheses. Lots of people don’t get this. Good natured ribbing is one thing, but…

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