Can You Eliminate the Awkwardness of Being an Introvert to Improve Your Social Life?
Maybe these weird things only happen to me… so I’m going to put it out there to test this hypothesis.
Has it ever happened to you that you are walking and you run into someone you were not expecting, they say “Hi, how are you doing”, and suddenly it feels like time stops? At this point you start running scenarios in your head about what your possible reactions should be, trying to guess what the reaction from the other person will be. Every situation has to be optimized!
After playing this overthinker-dilemma game in your head (and figuring out there is no Nash Equilibrium), you realize that time hasn’t actually stopped and you’ve been standing there for what feels like an eternity (and it’s just a couple of seconds). So you throw all your great scenarios out of the window and come out with something like “Thank you, you too”?
Then you keep walking without really understanding what just happened. Because you are still inside your head, overthinking the overthinking you just did. After you reach your destination, you realize how awkward that was. This is when a great strategy to avoiding these situations comes to your mind… Avoiding eye contact with any other human being so that you don’t even have to talk to them!
By doing so, you miss the element that has the most correlation with happiness which is the human connection. Yes, it is not money, or self-fulfillment, or anything else (you can listen to a great conversation about this, and many other topics, between Ray Dalio and Tim Ferriss here).
So what is the answer then? Keep having this awkward encounters hoping that at some point the pain will make your brain, and responses, change?
I feel your pain.
You see me know and you might think that these awkward scenarios never happen to me. You might have read my previous blogs, seen my vlogs, or maybe even attended one of the Networking Boot Camps that Matt and I conduct to help others overcome these obstacles. After doing so, you might come to the conclusion that I always have a good response to any situation. But that is the result of owning my awkwardness and doing something about it instead of avoiding it.
I’m no stranger to that pain because I am an introvert and non-native English speaker. In most of the situations that I find myself in, I could find excuses to think of myself as an “outsider” or someone who doesn’t fit it. That’s exactly what used to happen that wouldn’t allow me to perform at my best… so what changed?
From Awkwardness to Awesomeness
What would you do if you hear a gunshot? You will probably run, scream, or drop to the floor. We are wired to protect ourselves.
Do you imagine what would happen if police officers and soldiers would have that same reaction? That would mean putting their lives, and those of others, in great danger day in and day out.
So what is the answer? In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell shares some insights on how they go about, in training, to change the natural response police officers and soldiers have when hearing gunshots or explosions.
Through repetition, they are able to change that natural response to the desired response. They have training courses, and in those courses, they have people ready to shoot (not real bullets) to the officers in training when they least expect it.
The first couple of times it happens their heartbeat goes through the roof and they are paralyzed. But after several times of this, they become used to it and can replace the natural reaction for the desired one.
So, to go from awkwardness to awesomeness what we have to do is to search for more awkwardness… but with a plan.
The more we do it, the better we will be prepared to face those situations.
In the past two years, I have attended 200+ networking events. This has allowed me to replace natural reactions, for desired ones, in most situations. Yet, I keep going to events with a desire to face awkward situations. Because I know that doing so will make me a better networker.
For example, sometimes I stand in the middle of the room by myself. I just stand there looking at people, waiting as long as it takes for someone to approach me and start and conversation. I do this because I have already been able to deal with most of the “awkward situations” so know I need to take it up a notch. I’m playing the game at a higher difficulty level.
By the way, this kind of practices (of putting yourself in awkward situations) is not something new. Seneca was doing so thousands of years ago (more about this here). So why reinvent the wheel?
Basic Networking Skills Training
These are two basic exercises you can start doing TODAY, to start rewiring your brain and changing your awkward responses.
Nametag = Hello
Whenever you are shopping for anything, if the cashier has a nametag then don’t just silently pay for your stuff and head out. Just say “Hello, [nametag], how is your day?”.
As simple as that.
You have the advantage that they are paid to be of service, and nice, to people. So take advantage of that. Also, you are expected to pay and leave (especially if there is a line) so you don’t have the responsibility to keep the conversation going for too long. Just say hello, as a simple questions, maybe two or three more lines, and that’s it.
Keep doing it until it feels natural and you are not having to think too hard about what to say next.
Negotiate everything you buy
If you feel just saying hello is too easy for you, that you are not that bad in social interactions, then this is for you. This is usually called the coffee challenge, but you can apply it anywhere. The best part is that in doing so you can actually get some discounts!
It works best with things you know cannot be negotiated, like Starbucks coffee. Some examples could be: “What if I buy two for myself, can I get the second one with a discount?”, “What if I buy 1000 of these?”, “Not even for my birthday?”.
As you can see, your request doesn’t even need to make sense. The goal is not to be smart about it or to get the discount. The goal is getting you in the habit of coming up with responses fast, and to not shy away from uncomfortable conversations.
Another thing you can do is to attend the NetworKings Bootcamp that we will be conducting. Doing so will allow you to be a better networker and learn how to minimize awkward situations.
Most importantly, don’t forget to take action on these recommendations. They will only work if you do the work.
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