How to Be Less Awkward: 8 Tips That Really Work

I've been socially anxious for more than four decades, but these tricks help a ton when I need to be less awkward.

Published May 3, 2024

As someone who has struggled with social anxiety all my life, long silences and weird glances used to be my normal. And while anyone who tells you they can totally banish awkwardness is definitely not being honest, I've got a few tried-and-true tips for how to be less awkward in social situations. A lot of it comes down to how you direct your attention and what you're saying to yourself so more confidence is within your control.

Banish the Negative Self Talk

Here's the thing: awkwardness usually comes from a lack of confidence. And while you can't transform yourself into a more socially confident person overnight, you can go a lot easier on yourself. If you find yourself thinking things like "I'm always so weird in these situations," you might be sabotaging your own confidence before you even have a chance to start an interaction.

Start by paying attention to what you're saying in your head. If it's negative, turn it into something positive instead. For instance, if you're saying, "I always come across as a weirdo," change that to something like, "I'm unique and kind."

Quick Tip

Remember that being different is not the same as being awkward. There are plenty of people who are confident and collected and super weird in the best ways.

Focus Your Attention on the Other Person

You know when people aren't thinking about how awkward you are? When they're thinking about themselves instead. One of the best ways to be less awkward is to switch your attention away from yourself and focus on the other person. Their attention will switch, too, so if you do something a little strange or embarrassing, they're way less likely to care or even notice.

There are a few ways to switch your attention to the other person.

  • Compliment them. Notice something positive the other person is wearing or doing and pay them a compliment. I always like complimenting someone's accessories or shoes because it's socially safe (with minimal chance of it looking like you're hitting on them).
  • Ask a few great questions. Choose questions that aren't easy to answer with one word and aren't super personal. If you know something they've done lately, that's a good thing to ask about.
  • Actively listen. Really listen to what the other person says and then ask follow-up questions or repeat a little of what they said with slightly different phrasing. This lets them know they have your attention.

Related: 55 Genuine Compliments Any Guy Would Love to Hear

Pay Attention to Your Body & Remember to Breathe

This might sound like the opposite of focusing on the other person, but take a sec to check in with your own body from time to time, too. Notice if you're starting to feel stressed since a lot of awkwardness comes directly from anxiety. For me, social stress tends to feel like a tightness in my shoulders, a fast heart rate, and shallow breathing. When that happens, I can virtually guarantee I'll be all stiff-looking.

The key to how to not be awkward when you feel like that is taking a few deep breaths. If you're like me, you might be self-conscious about taking those deep breaths in front of other people, but they really won't notice. We're not talking about hyperventilating or anything either — just three long breaths in and out.

Quick Tip

Deep breathing that engages your abdomen is one of the best ways to settle down your stress response. Concentrate on breathing deeply enough to let your chest and belly expand.

Tune in to Non-Verbal Communication

A lot of how we communicate doesn't involve words and missed social cues can also lead to tons of awkwardness. A person's emotional state is more clearly communicated by how they say something than by what they say. Take sarcasm, for example. If you take what someone says at face value and miss the sarcastic tone of voice, you don't really get what they're saying at all.

When I'm interacting with people, I try to check in with what they're showing me in their facial expressions, tone, and body language. Doing this makes it way less likely that I'll misunderstand them. Knowing how to be less socially awkward means tuning in to those non-verbal messages.

Call Out the Weirdness Right Away

If there's one thing that instantly reduces awkwardness in so many situations, it's saying it out loud. When you tell someone you're nervous or that this might be a strange conversation, you change their expectations. They're no longer expecting you to be totally together, and that takes the pressure off (and makes it way more likely that you actually will be totally together, after all).

This also works after a gaff or social stumble. Calling it out reduces its impact. You can say, "That didn't come out how I meant it." It will give you a redo in most situations.

Be Less Awkward With Your Crush by Interacting as a Friend

Certain situations are just prone to awkwardness, and talking to your crush can be one of them. The thing is, you're probably not awkward with every single person in your life. If you're comfortable with your friends but nervous around your crush, try to interact with them the way you would your friends. Don't worry — this doesn't mean that you're just friends.

Be Less Awkward at Parties by Starting on Common Ground

Small talk can feel like the worst, but it actually follows a fairly set pattern. If you ask questions based on little things you have in common, it's not going to be weird. Start with mentioning the commonality, and then make it a bit more personal.

For example, say it's been gorgeous weather for the past several days. Instead of talking about the weather itself, you can acknowledge it and then talk about how it affects the two of you. You might say something like, "It's been so gorgeous outside lately, hasn't it? I'm trying to get out every day after work. Have you been enjoying the sun?"

Quick Tip

You can do the commonality thing with any topic that's not emotionally charged (stay away from politics and religion, for example). The start of summer vacation, a holiday you know they also celebrate, the host of the party, or anything else you share can make a great jumping-off point for a non-awkward conversation.

Plan What You Want to Say to Be Less Awkward at Work

Just like so many things involving work, planning ahead helps a lot. In situations where you need to speak in front of a group or have a difficult one-on-one conversation, knowing what you're going to say before you have to say it makes it all so much easier.

I hate public speaking, so I plan out everything I'm going to say when I have to do it. It's still nerve-wracking, but I come off as way more polished than if I just did a presentation without tons of planning.

Realize Your Awkwardness Is Okay

Knowing how to be less awkward doesn't mean you're never going to be awkward again, though. It's still going to happen from time to time, and being kind to yourself about your awkwardness is really important. Most of us judge ourselves so much more harshly than we judge others.

The other day, I went bowling with several friends. I'm a terrible bowler, but the real awkwardness happened when one of my friends tried to give me a high five. I am literally the person who missed the high five and looked like a total dork. But guess what? All my friends cracked up, and I did too. Turns out, people really don't judge you for being awkward as much as it might seem. They're much more concerned with how being with you makes them feel.

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How to Be Less Awkward: 8 Tips That Really Work