Social Tips For The Socially Awkward

Do you have a hard time socializing with people? Do you often end up saying or doing the wrong thing, or find that people just seem to edge away from you after awhile? Here are a few tips that might help you out.

When entering a space full of people, take a moment to observe before speaking. Whether it's a real life space or a space online, look around and see what's going on. What's the mood? Who is speaking to whom? What's being discussed? What is your intuition telling you? What do you pick up on when you pay attention to your empathy? Additionally, take a moment to do this every several minutes or so, and whenever someone doesn't seem to be responding to you positively.

Don't ask strangers or casual acquaintances for personal details or life updates. Most people don't feel comfortable sharing these kinds of details with people they don't know well, so doing this will quickly get you branded a creep. Don't do it.

Don't share details like these with strangers or casual acquaintances. This is oversharing, and it makes people uncomfortable. Don't do it, unless you want to get branded a creep.

Don't offer them unsolicited advice on personal things. Whether it's on health matters, relationship issues, personal projects, etc., don't volunteer unsolicited advice on it.

Cut down on ellipses. Do you often end your sentences with ellipses ("...")? Stop. Use one period, no period, an exclamation point - anything, but don't use ellipses. It makes you look insecure and waffly, which puts a lot of people off.

Don't ask questions you already know the answer to, can find the answer to on Google, or can figure out with a few moments of inductive or deductive reasoning. Nobody likes having to answer questions that you should already know the answer to; asking them makes you annoying.

Don't state the obvious. The typical person you're going to run into understands that prejudice is bad, politicians are awful, and that the Star Wars prequels were terrible. Making Captain Obvious statements along these lines is going to be annoying at best and feel patronizing at worst.

Don't interrogate people. You might have heard advice like "ask people questions" and "people like to talk about themselves," but that's only true up to a point. If you start asking too many questions, you start coming off as obnoxious or creepy. As a general rule, asking two or three questions is fine. After that, the conversation should either turn into an actual discussion of some kind, or the other party should be able to ask you a few questions. So after you've asked about two or three questions, stop and see what this person has to say or ask. If the conversation just fizzles at this point, that's fine - it wasn't going anywhere, anyway.

Cut down on rambling. Before bringing something up in the middle of a conversation, ask yourself: "Why does this person need to know this? What will this person do with this information?" If you can't think of a satisfactory answer, don't say it. Likewise, ask yourself if you already mentioned this in the conversation already. If you have, don't bring it up again.

Pay attention to how much you're saying versus how much others are saying. Are you posting paragraphs upon paragraphs and lines upon lines while other people are posting very little at all? Maybe it's time to cut back and give them a chance to speak up. Stop posting for a bit and give them time to contribute their own thoughts.

Remember that if people aren't interested, it's time to change the subject. Some people make the mistake of thinking that if they keep talking about a topic that nobody else seems to be interested in, they'll eventually say something that catches their attention and wins their interest over. In reality, it doesn't work that way - not only are people probably getting annoyed, but the more you talk about it the more likely they're going to end up with a negative view on the subject matter. Change the topic, or pipe down and let someone else drive the conversation.

Know the difference between stating something as an opinion, and stating something as fact. If you say, "I think [story] is really terrible," you're stating something as an opinion. If you say, "[Story] is the worst piece of garbage ever written!", you're stating it as a fact. You don't get to do the latter and claim that you're "just stating your opinion," because you not. If you're genuinely trying to state a personal opinion, preface it with something like "I think that..." or "In my opinion..."

Don't try to force people's opinions around on their tastes and preferences. If people don't like something you like, don't try to explain to them why they're wrong or misguided for disliking it. If people like something you dislike, don't try and convince them that it's stupid and awful. You can of course state your own opinions on it, but you still need to accept that people have different tastes from you and deal with it. Don't be the control freak here.

Use cautious judgment around certain topics. If you're in mixed or uncertain company, avoid diving into topics involving strong violence (especially if graphic), gore, sex, sexual violence, compulsive/addictive behaviors, and both physical and emotional abuse. Likewise, avoid squicky topics such as bodily functions or excretions and medical conditions. This is not to say that there is never a time and place for these topics, but if you go into them early and often, or launch into graphic or in-depth talk of such matters at the drop of a hat, don't be surprised if people start avoiding you. If you have an actual reason for bringing up a sensitive topic such as this, ask first if it's okay to discuss it.

Try following the traffic light rule. If someone is happily going along with what you're doing by joining in and maybe even taking things up a notch, or gives you verbal encouragement, you're good - that's your green light to keep going. If someone hesitates or otherwise doesn't reciprocate, that's your yellow light to slow down. Let this person make the next move, or ask if what you're doing is bothering or boring this person, or something to that effect. If someone outright tells you no or to stop, or starts moving away (whether physically or by trying to change the subject), that's your red light to stop. And if you're ever unsure of how comfortable or okay this person is with what you're doing, just ask - it's better to be safe than sorry.

Don't agree with people just to make them like you. First of all, if you have to agree with everything that someone says to be liked by someone, this person isn't worth being liked by. Secondly, a lot of people can tell exactly what you're doing, and it's very annoying - nobody likes people who are obviously fake.

Never try to pass off a social blunder or faux pas as a joke. Just apologize and move on. Not only does lying about it make you an ass, but there are good odds that people will recognize immediately that you're lying about it and see you as a toxic, manipulative person.

Don't act like a control freak. Nobody likes a control freak. See The Voice of Reason vs. The Control Freak - The Difference for more information.

Know that you are not required to participate in every conversation. If you don't know what's going on or what people are talking about, it's fine if you just stay quiet. Trying to insert yourself into the middle of a conversation on a topic you obviously don't understand very well tends to annoy people, but nobody will judge you if you just sit quiet and listen in.

Aim to be a good listener. Listening is a hard skill for anyone - not just the socially awkward - but it's so very important to learn and exercise. Take a look at How To Be A Good Listener & Be Emotionally Supportive for more information.

If you are ever unsure whether your behavior is acceptable, or not, ask yourself if it meets a simple criteria. Take a leaf from Bill and Ted's book and follow this simple rule: be excellent to each other. In a nutshell, aim to behave and treat people in a way that will make them feel comfortable and happy. If you ever find yourself unsure whether your behavior is acceptable or not, ask yourself: "Am I being excellent to them?"

Try to look after yourself emotionally, as much as possible. While people are usually willing to be supportive sometimes, nobody has the time or energy to be supportive all of the time. Constantly relying on people to help you thus will eventually hurt them and/or drive them away from you. Check out 7 Ways To Make Yourself A Happier Person, 5 More Ways To Make Yourself A Happier Person, How To Make A Light Book (A Book To Make Yourself Feel Better When You're Feeling Down), and How To Cultivate A Strong Internal Identity. If you have serious issues, try to talk to a counselor, therapist, etc.

Remember that you're never at fault for anything that you would have needed to be omniscient or prescient to avoid. For example, if you severely upset a stranger by talking about some relatively common or mundane subject, this is not your fault. You had no reasonable way to know ahead of time that this would would be such a sensitive subject. Sure, you should try to avoid talking about this subject in the future around this person, but it's not your fault if you honestly did not know and had no reasonable way to know. Apologize to this person for causing distress to be polite and to make it clear that you care about this person's feelings, but remember that what happened doesn't make you a bad person.

And likewise, remember that people can't read your mind to know what will upset you. If something bothers you, sometimes you've just got to come out and say it. Sitting around stewing endlessly as someone does or says something that gets to you is no way to go. If there's something you want or would like to do, it's going to do you no good to just sit around and hope that someone will come and offer. How To (Nicely) Speak Up, Assert Yourself, & Ask For Things In Your RPs (And Why You Need To) was written with roleplayers in mind, but the principles in it apply to pretty much everything.

When you mess up, apologize gracefully. See Apologizing - How & Why To Do It for more information on this subject. Good apologies can fix things quickly, but bad ones can make them so, so much worse.

Work on strengthening your empathy whenever possible. How To Exercise & Strengthen Your Empathy has tips for this.

Avoid self-deprecation and apologizing for everything. This can be very hard to avoid doing sometimes, especially if one has self-esteem issues, but it's still something to try to avoid. Self-deprecation (talking about how awful and horrible you are) tends to make things awkward and drag everyone's mood down. Apologizing for every tiny little thing gets very irritating after awhile. Furthermore, self-deprecation and over-apologizing can actually make one look greedy for attention. (For more information on what you should and shouldn't apologize for, see the link above.)

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How To Behave In A Creative Help Community
Dealing With Criticism & Negative Reviews
Basic Advice For Giving Useful Feedback To Creators
How To Quickly Spot Abusive & Manipulative People
How To Recognize A Moral Abuser
How To Recognize Gaslighting

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