How not to be awkward. I can just hear some of you thinking “I’ve seen your videos, Jess….and, uh…MAYBE you aren’t the best person to teach this particular lesson. Just sayin.”
I get it, and I totally disagree. Because being “awkward” myself is the reason I don’t believe awkwardness is even a THING.
What the what? You heard me. Awkwardness is not a thing in and of itself. It is an OUTCOME, the result of confusion and lack of authenticity. And that outcome has a solution (though it takes courage and practice.) What is it? Why, an engaging cocktail of confidence, curiosity, honesty, and vulnerability.
Well, that was super vague, right? Let’s look at what happens in an awkward situation so you can see what I mean.
You or I (the awkward ones) do or say something. Then someone else in our vicinity becomes confused. They are either confused because they don’t know what you intended when you acted or spoke, OR they are confused because they don’t know what to say or do in response (or both). Often, this confusion forces them into a kind of stunned silence, which is generally the moment when we both realize that we did something “awkward,” and when WE OURSELVES become confused about how to respond, leading to more silence and more awkwardness.
But what’s really happening here? The person who is confused is likely trying to decide if we were being funny, sarcastic, serious, or something else when we spoke. They’re not sure. But rather than simply ASKING us what we meant, they wait, trying to figure it out on their own. Why?
The most likely answer is that they are afraid they will offend us if they do so. Because if we were trying to be funny and they didn’t get it, we might be hurt. And if we were trying to be serious and they thought we were joking, we might be angry. Finally, if they consider what we said or did to be inappropriate or embarrassing, they might not want to be the ones to mention this to us as this could create a slew of negative emotions in us. They don’t want to risk any of these scenarios, so they wait, and awkwardness results.
But the blame doesn’t lie solely with them. Because we do the same thing when we notice their “awkward silence.” We feel a rush of emotion, perhaps shame (because we WERE trying to be funny and now assume we were NOT) or rejection (because we were trying to be serious and they are not showing understanding) or fear or embarrassment or….on and on and on. And then, rather than expressing our awareness of lack of clarity at hand and asking if we could be MORE clear, we perpetuate the situation with our own silence.
Okay, so that’s the situation. Here’s my proposed solution to myself and all my fellow awkwardians.
  1. The next time you get into an “awkward” situation, let any negative emotions you experience slide off your shoulders. You ARE funny. You ARE worthy. And nothing has gone wrong. The situation is that someone is uncomfortable or uncertain, and you have the ability to both HELP them and LEARN from the situation if you would like to help prevent this kind of discomfort in the future. You have the chance to take control of this moment, and if you believe that, confidence will follow.
  2. Allow yourself to be curious about what just happened and what the other person/people just experienced. Sometimes, without the added pressure of our negative emotions, it can be easy to see what the problem or misconception might have been, and we can simply identify it, apologize for the discomfort, and move on. Other times it might be less simply, and we’ll need to move to step three.
  3. Be honest and vulnerable about the situation. Try saying some version of the following: “I’m getting the sense that I just said something that was hard to interpret or made you uncomfortable. I do this sometimes without meaning to. If possible, I’d really like to clear up the confusion.” If the confused person is forthcoming, they might tell you what the hangup was. Or, you might need to continue with something like, “I was trying to be funny, but it is totally fine if it didn’t amuse you. Can we continue the conversation from before I said/did that?”
  4. Evaluate. Make it a goal to study the situations in which one or more people felt “awkward” around you. Are there recurring themes? Does EVERYONE get quiet when you make political jokes, or just your mom’s side of the family? Is the volume of your voice, the speed of your words, or you physical movements involved? Often, when we are entrenched in the feeling of awkwardness and shame, making these observations is difficult or impossible. But if we can stay neutral or curious, we can learn what it is we are doing that is causing confusion. NOTE: You may also want to study the EMOTIONS you were feeling before you spoke or acted in a way that was confusing to others. If a given emotion (say, desperation for acceptance, or nervousness, etc.) is driving these actions, it may be worth working with a coach like myself to take more control over them and act from a place of confidence, love, and community instead.
  5. Once we have made a thorough study of our habits, we can decide whether we WANT to adjust them for other’s benefit or not. I tend to make jokes about death “too soon.” I don’t like the way this affects people, so I actively try to hold back that side of my sense of humor. But the rest of my quirkiness I prefer to leave unfiltered. I simply know and plan for this to confuse people sometimes, and have memorized responses like the one above to use when that happens in order to put as many people as possible back at ease.
  6. Work on your self-love. It is SO easy to beat ourselves up for creating “awkward” situations. But doing so exacerbates the problem and creates social anxiety and lack of self-trust. If we knew that we would never shame or berate ourselves for being someone that another person didn’t understand, imagine how that would change things for us. If you need help with this, reach out to me. I can help you see yourself in an entirely different light.
Stay weird, friends. 🙂
P.S. To get in on my free, 7 day trainings on emotions, ADHD, Christianity, and more, search for “Free Trainings with ETC” on Facebook and request to join the group!
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