Image courtesy of CarbonNYC via Flickr, with edits by Curiousmatic.
It’s never too late to stop making people uncomfortable.
Even the smartest of people can be socially awkward given the circumstances. While this is by no means a crime, it’s better not to make a habit out of uncomfortable exchanges if possible.
By avoiding these five common but awkward social mistakes, even your awkward uncle Arnold can get through social encounters without a lick of humiliation.
1. The Inappropriate Greeting
When meeting or re-meeting people, it’s sometimes hard to gauge how comfortable your relationship with them is. A common mistake people make all the time is greeting an acquaintance or new person with a hug when they may not be comfortable with such intimacy.
On the flip side, declining to hug an acquaintance can also cause discomfort. In this type of situation, it’s best to just be honest and trust your instincts — you will be able to tell if you’ve slipped up. Instead of ignoring the mistake, acknowledge it, make a joke and move on.
Many people also suffer from forgetting names and facts immediately after they are introduced. Taking care to remember names and other conversation topics can prevent awkward moments in the future, and show others that you care enough to note small details.
2. The Embarrassing Assumption
Ever seen someone ask a friend of a friend when her baby was due, only to discover she was not pregnant? This is a clear case of making assumptions, a mistake that can take many different forms of wrongfulness: for example, assuming two people are a couple just because they are standing together, assuming someone’s background or intelligence from the way they look, or assuming someone is interested in you romantically, whether or not they are.
Extending the benefit of the doubt is a good rule that anyone can learn from. Think before you talk, and realize you don’t know anyone’s life but your own. Let them prove your judgements wrong or right before putting in your own two cents.
3. The White Lie
When you doesn’t understand what someone is saying, you might often just agree with them to make it seem like you knows what’s going on, and to save yourself the embarrassment of asking a person to repeat themselves.
Unfortunately, getting caught in a lie is even worse than showing ignorance. Getting away with this kind of lie will just make your exchange more artificial, and force you to keep up a charade until the truth comes out… awkwardly, no doubt.
4. The Unnecessary Argument
Arguments can be healthy and stimulating, but acting like a know-it-all is a bad way to win friends and a good way to make yourself look like an idiot. Instead of choosing battles, some people prefer to take a position and gracelessly argue their points to little avail. They believe that by proving themselves right, they are enlightening others.
In reality, being empathetic to the perspective of others makes all the difference in preventing awkward outcomes. It shows that yes, you have opinions, but you can also understand the reasoning of others, even if you agree to disagree.
5. The Too-Soon Farewell
Most people have probably at least once delivered an elaborate goodbye to an acquaintance, only to find out that they were walking the same way or not leaving quite yet. It’s a common awkward problem that makes everyone look silly, and highlights the fact that you don’t really want to continue talking.
Wait until you know ways must be parted to say goodbye. Try to have a grasp on what is happening after the goodbye, such as who is going where, when, and why. If you slip up, you can either laugh it off or, if you must, go out of your way to travel an opposite route.
Obviously, it’s preferable to get the timing right.
Originally published on October 28, 2013.