People use the word 'awkward' on its own when observing even a slightly uncomfortable situation, long 'awkward' pauses are used for entertainment in hit reality shows like Made in Chelsea and The Only Way in Essex and the most popular type of celebrity is the classic ‘relatably awkward girl’ like Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Stone or Taylor Swift.
Now, a book has been written on the subject. Psychologist and self-confessed awkward person Ty Tashiro has sought to uplift and guide the awkward person through life in The Science of Why We’re Socially Awkward and Why That’s Awesome which contains chapters including ‘How many friends are enough?’, ‘Can we just skip the emotional parts?’ and ‘Sex is super-awkward’.
The way awkwardness has entered the mainstream is actually very different to what people who struggle with social interactions experience. Tashiro has been “awkward for as long as I can remember” and was never able to navigate his way around social circles as well as some of his peers.
“I had great difficulty ordering at a restaurant or knowing what to say when conversations were not one-on-on and routinely skipped social graces like saying goodbye or goodnight,” he says.
Bruce Willis' apology for being boring is nothing: the most awkward TV interview moments
Bruce Willis' apology for being boring is nothing: the most awkward TV interview moments
Dying hard on screenAfter appearing on The One Show last week to promote A Good Day to Die Hard, the latest film in the Die Hard series, viewers were less than impressed with Bruce Willis. He later told UK radio station Xfm he was jetlagged: "I have to apologise...I didn't get very many compliments about it. They said it was a little stale. But I was so jetlagged. I'm very sorry, you kids on The One Show...I'm sure it's not their problem. I was a little bit boring, I think. I had a little sinking spell, that's all."
A basic instinct to look awayA female presenter brought the Serbian prime minister up short by doing a Sharon Stone style flash of her private parts. The Serbian premier is obviously taken aback by the stunt set up by Candid Camera style show ‘Mission Impossible’, but in true politician style manages to stumble on, albeit with a rather dreamy smile on his face.
The Bee Gees walk out on Clive Anderson
It starts with the Bee Gees admitting that they used to be called ‘Les Tosseurs’.“You’ll always be Les Tosseurs to me” quips the chat show host. Then when he claims to like Robin Gibb’s solo effort but not to remember a song released by the other two brothers at the same time, Barry Gibb walks out saying: “You’re the tosser pal.”
Kerry Katona on This Morning
She turns up late. She’s talking unnaturally slowly. She’s slurring her words. Eventually Phillip Schofield feels compelled to point out the fact that she doesn’t seem right. Kerry blames it on the medication...
Tom Cruise ‘love-struck’ on Oprah
He seemed to be rather too happy from the start, alternately dropping to his knees and punching the air. “It’s too much,” cries Oprah, vocalising what we are all thinking. ‘What’s happened to you?” She says. “I’m in love!” he cries jumping around, punching the air a bit more and randomly grappling Oprah by the shoulders. In the light of the subsequent break-up, could this have been a teensy-weensy case of protesting too much?
Preston walks out on Never Mind the Buzzcocks
The moment when Buzzcocks presenter Simon Amstell’s bullying style of hosting turned around to bite him on the backside, possibly. Preston was fresh from his Celebrity Big Brother appearance and his shotgun wedding to winner Chantelle Houghton. The last thing he wanted was dig after dig about the brainless vacuity of his new wife you would imagine, and you’d be right. As Amstell quoted passage after unrelenting embarrassing passage from Chantelle’s autobiography, Preston’s stare slowly hardened until he could take it no more and
“Maybe he thinks he’s been voted off,” said Bill Bailey and picked out a replacement ‘Preston’ from the audience who turned out, thankfully, to be less wooden than the real thing.
Oliver Reed on anything
He ‘sang’, sozzled on Aspel. He said the word ‘cock’ without referring to poultry on the Des O’connor show. He ran amok on The Word where they secretly filmed him drinking in his dressing room before the show. When Clive James asked him why he drank, he said: “Because the finest people I’ve ever met were in a pub.” Fair enough.
Meg Ryan on Parkinson.
Parkinson’s unusually aggressive questioning throws Ryan a
on the defensive. Parky reacts by pointing out her icy body language. The conversation becomes more and more awkward with longer uncomfortable silences. A desperate Parky asks what she would do in his situation. “Wrap it up,” says Ryan to ironic applause.
Richard Madeley’s Ali G impression
Daytime television legend, other half of Richard and Judy and serial putter of foot in mouth, Richard Madeley dressed up as Ali G on ITV’s This Morning. “Aaaiiiee” says Richard as Judy, not for the first time, squirms in the background. The scariest thing was that he really did look like the Staines-based rapper.
Angus Deayton gets mauled on Have I Got News for You
He had been in the press earlier in the week for allegedly taking cocaine and seeing prostitutes. He was soon to be sacked by the BBC for it, but first he had to go through the on-screen hell of Paul Merton and Ian Hislop’s endless gibes.
BBC interviews the wrong guy
BBC News 24 presenter Karen Bowerman introduces “Guy Kewney, the editor of the technology website, News Wireless.” The look on the face of taxi driver Guy Goma, who is actually there for a job interview, is priceless. “Are you surprised to see this verdict?” asks Karen. “I’m very surprised to see this verdict come on me,” says Guy and you can see he isn’t kidding. He soldiers on bravely though and ends up giving a.better interview than many other ‘experts’.
He spoke to The Independent about what makes a truly awkward person, how this distinguishes from awkward moments and gave his thoughts on how to be less awkward.
There are awkward moments and then there are awkward people
According to Tashiro, awkwardness can be defined by separating it into moments and people.
“Awkward moments occur when we deviate from small social expectations, like keeping our zippers zipped or maintaining 18 inches of personal space. There are dozens of social expectations in any given interaction - eye contact, don't stand too close, say 'I'm fine thanks, how are you?' - awkward moments happen when we deviate from one of these small expectations. “
On the other hand, awkward people are more likely to miss these social expectations.
“Or they might have difficulty executing the expected behaviour because they see the world a little differently than most people,” says Tashiro.
A good example of an awkward person is Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory
“I usually don’t like to single out real individuals if I can help it, but there are plenty of familiar characters in television and movies who exemplify the awkward type of person,” Tashiro says. “ [TV shows like] Silicon Valley and The Big Bang Theory have many quintessentially awkward characters.
Everyone gets awkward
Tashiro says unless someone has lived an absolutely perfect social life, they will make gaffes or get caught in the wrong situation so will probably get awkward.
“One of the things that I love about the topic of awkwardness is that everyone can relate because even if someone is not an awkward person, they know what it’s like to have an awkward moment.”
Awkward people see the world differently
One of the main takeaways of awkwardness explained in Tashiro’s book comes down the fact that awkward people see the world differently: missing social cues, social expectations or processing social information like people’s thoughts and emotions.
“Simon Baron-Cohen, a researcher at Oxford University, has found that people with the kinds of social skill deficits and communication problems that characterise awkward people, tend to think in very systematic, methodical ways. This style of thinking is well matched to logical, linear tasks (e.g., science, computer code), but is not a great fit with the abstract, highly variable nature of social interactions.”
People can become less awkward by breaking down social interactions and watching their manners
“Every awkward person I’ve known who has figured out how to become socially proficient or even socially fluent, has been a great observer of the likeable people around them. They will watch how they greet people, the ways they respond to others that show a sincere interest, and even how to wrap up a conversation well,” he says.
Tashiro also suggests being aware of your manners as most rules of etiquette exist to smooth social interactions.
‘Awkward: The Science of Why We’re Socially Awkward and What That’s Awesome by Ty Tashiro is published by William Morrow on 1st June 2017, £20’
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