A few years ago if someone had told me I would be raising ideas or asking questions in a meeting at work I would probably laugh at them. All my life I have always known myself as the socially awkward girl of the pack. I didn’t know how to start a conversation and keeping one going was very hard for me. I thought it took way too much strength and I just couldn’t be bothered.
When I told my high school teacher I was going to go into Journalism he was astounded and I was not surprised that he was. For me, his surprise was a bet or a challenge. In my head, he was saying, “I would really love to see little Crisan do that”. The thing is, I love a good challenge and I took it on. I applied to university with two options that would both require a lot of verbal communication – to do Journalism or Digital Marketing. I ended up getting through for both and had to battle for two weeks with the voices in my head about which one to choose. Of course, I chose Journalism because it came with the fact that I could win a “bet” and I could write a lot, which I love.
Fast forward to almost 5 years since I had that conversation with my high school teacher, I am a Journalist, writer, content creator, and people cannot get me to shut up. I love expressing ideas and just having a good conversation. Sure, I still get nervous and I hold back sometimes when I am uncomfortable, but, I’ve come a long way and this is how I did it:
Go to more social events
Get dressed and go enjoy a cocktail or two! While I was in Journalism school this was one of the things I tried to avoid as much as possible. I was not comfortable talking to new people so I tried as much as possible to avoid social events. I remember someone once called me a loner because I was always by myself.
What I did was challenged myself to go out to some of the media school events and start conversations. Over time I found this relatively easy as most of my classmates were nice people. Besides this, we had a lot of assignments to discuss and complain about.
Besides communicating with my peers, I found that I had to communicate and build relationships with lecturers and people in the same field if I wanted to have a fruitful career after uni. I built relationships that have really helped me over time.
Ask for Clarifications when you don’t understanding
When I started working I struggled with this a lot. Even though my lecture who used to teach me back at UWI voice screamed in my head, “ask the stupid questions they will stop you from looking stupid,” I never asked questions. I just went with what my mind said. Of course, this landed me in a lot of problems. My excuse was always that I’m scared and my boss is scary.
I have realized over time that if you don’t ask for clarification then the other person will feel like you weren’t listening. They will as though you are just wasting their time. This is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned since being in the working world.
My advice to anyone who struggles with this is to try to get it right by summarizing what the person said to them; ask if you are correct and if not, they will clarify for you.
You are probably screaming, “but I’m a terrible communicator. I’m too awkward!”
You will only be putting more pressure on yourself if you pretend to be someone you are not.
Over time the lies you would have to keep telling would only lead to you looking needy and less liked. Instead, try to focus on contributing to the conversation, listen to what others are saying, and share similar stories or experiences. If you are not a funny person, don’t force it and avoid self-centered talks such as bragging.
Find a Wingman
Try not to go to events alone but with someone who is inherently much more gregarious.
These people could introduce you to new people and lead conversations, and you pitch in when you can. This person could give you a head start, and you could even learn one or two things from him or her.
Try to change the way you talk to Yourself
For me, this was not easy as I struggled a lot with low self-esteem. Over time I learned that my self-confidence affects how I communicate with people in my work area, church, and other social settings. I used to worry about my physical appearance. If I didn’t feel beautiful on a particular day I would be worried about who stares at my ugly dress or unattractive hairstyle. Somehow the way I look always seems to affect my day.
Writing this and looking back now, I can proudly say that I wear whatever I want whenever I want and take all the stares as admiration. When people gawk, I stare right back daring them to criticize my masterpiece (I kid you not lol).
Sometimes getting over low-self esteem is not easy, and some people might have to see a therapist. Even the strongest people struggle with this, and I believe we have to find a way to remind ourselves every day not to let ourselves stop ourselves by worrying about others’ criticism.
There you have it, five ways to get over social awkwardness. It is easier said than done, I still feel awkward sometimes, but I remind myself of the place I want to be someday and that growth does not happen overnight. Be patient with yourself and take it one step at a time.