Here’s the situation...
Imagine: you’re just minding your own business, probably doing errands or attending school, when the air around you suddenly feels different. Alarmed, you look around while trying to stay covert, but also not wanting to be clearly unnerved. To your relief, you see it’s just another person that has entered your immediate vicinity. Silence ensues, and everything’s fine, but terror strikes when they begin to speak about who-knows-what in your direction.
Who is this person? Your mind screams. Why are they treating me as a friend? How are they so calm? Are they even talking to me? Then, you realize they have asked you a question while you were busy trying to determine their underlying motives. You are now expected to respond to a question, but all possibilities are hopeless. You could ask them to repeat themselves, but what if you actually can’t understand them when they do? You could ignore them, but that would be a pretty rude call. You could follow your instincts when they say to run, but that would make you look like a lunatic. What do you do now?
This is the struggle of the awkward person. They can enjoy life and all it holds, but when asked to socialize with strangers, their world comes crashing down. In a society where confidence is expected, they make a fool of themselves, leaving them to wonder how much every stranger they meet questions their sanity. Oftentimes, they wish they could be more confident, but they don’t have a pair of fairy godparents that will make their every whim a reality. While social confidence is the desired option, that can take a long time to come by, if at all. With wishing for confidence and trying to get it after only a short period of time off the list, they must settle for Plan C: faking it. After all, if you succeed in convincing people that you're confident, you'll get the same social results as you would if you actually were. This expedition is undoubtedly trivial, which is why I have provided the following tips - read them, befriend them, invite them over for tea and scones, and they will aid you.
If you're like most awkward people, then you would much rather curl up in a corner and die than engage in a spontaneous conversation with strangers. Unfortunately, this preference is not healthy, so you need to get over it somehow. One way to do this is to get into the habit of thinking about these talkative little cinnamon buns rationally: if they’re striking up a conversation with you without even knowing you, do you really think they have underlying motives? Of course, some people actually do, but those are not as common as you may think. In fact, most people that talk to strangers are just friendly. Keep this in mind, and you may be able to ease up on your fears. You might even make a new friend.
Calming Yourself Through Posture
I understand that you feel awkward during conversations, and I understand that the insecurity you feel during these situations may be so strong that it shows. In showing this insecurity, you might hunch over, cross your arms, and/or tense up your shoulders. However, this display of your insecurity that you believe makes you feel more comfortable is actually harming you. As stated by Mandy Oaklander of Time, poor posture actually makes a person feel more uneasy (Oaklander). So, if you're drowning in insecurity and find yourself curling up into a ball, make an effort to sit up straight to help you feel better.
Not Knowing Names
There may come a time when you meet someone new, and you realize halfway into the conversation that you don't know their name. You may be inclined to just hope you don't have to say it, but if this is a person you're planning to continue socializing with, you must endure the potential awkwardness of simply asking for their name. After all, you'll feel much worse if you have to use their name and don't know it. In the instance that you don't hear them properly, ask them to repeat their introduction, making sure to pay closer attention this time so you don't have to ask them again. If, however, they didn't introduce themselves at all, employ this tactic: look them in the eyes and say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.” Unless the person is immensely insolent, they’ll probably smile and tell you their name. To make yourself more comfortable while doing this, you can even add a joke about how you sometimes spend months trying to catch someone else saying a person's name so you don't have to ask. This will lighten the mood in the conversation, which will help you feel a little less awkward about not only asking for the person’s name but also about the conversation itself.
Confident people need to know you’re paying attention to them. They look for normal things in a conversation, and something normal is to not only listen to the other person but actually look like you are. How do you do this? For starters, simply make the effort listen to them - sometimes all you need to listen is to just try. Set aside your plans for that snack pulley system you want to install in your house for a few minutes and tune in your radio to the station the other person is starring on. To help with this, make eye contact - making the other person the center of your vision instead of looking in a completely different direction will help make their words the center of your thoughts. In addition to this, they will also know that you are, in fact, talking to them, and not another person entirely. Finally, it helps to nod every now and then, since this is a universal gesture that says, "Yeah, man, I get what you're saying."
Saying Stupid Stuff
You’ve done it. You’ve said something stupid - in front of people, no less! What do you do now? Well, you have three options that will actually help you: let it go, make a joke out of it, or admit it. Letting it go may seem pretty difficult, but remember that it probably won’t matter later on in life. Anyone that was there to witness your foolishness probably won’t remember, much less care. If that won’t work, make a joke out of your stupidity! Humor is gold in nearly any situation, so if you can make a joke out of something stupid you said, it will smooth things over. Otherwise, you can simply say, “I’m sorry, that was stupid,” and leave it at that. A kind person will assure you there’s nothing wrong with what you said, or make a light-hearted joke out of it themselves.
Are you sitting with another person in silence after you were just talking? Whatever you do, don’t freak out. I know how awkward it can feel, but it’s really not that bad. As a matter of fact, silence only becomes awkward when you fruitlessly try to avoid it. This is the point in a social interaction where you are actually allowed to ignore the person you were talking to, due to the obvious lack of conversation at the moment. So, just sit back and drown yourself in thoughts, and if the other person starts talking again, redirect your attention to them. In some cases, this shift of attention to your own thoughts will actually give you something to say, thus eradicating any sliver of awkwardness you may have kept from the initial silence.
Being an awkward person in a confidence-driven world can be difficult. Whether they realize it or not, people naturally expect each other to be confident, so they are often taken by surprise when they meet the awkward person. Although, this surprise is nothing compared to the agony the awkward experiences when they are thrust into social interactions. Some awkward people will metamorphosize into confident butterflies, but others will remain the insecure little caterpillars they are. If you are one of those eternal caterpillars, do not fret over your inability to find peace in social interactions. There is a surprisingly large amount of caterpillars like you, so the chances are that you’re not the only one in your vicinity that wants a bird to swoop down and eat you - at least you can try to find peace in that.