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How to be less socially awkward, by an awkward person

Need to drastically reduce your awkwardness level before a job interview, you meet a new partner's family or start university? Ty Tashiro tells The Independent how he navigates life as a socially awkward person and what you can do to reduce this

Olivia Blair
Thursday 18 May 2017 14:53 BST
(Getty istock)

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.

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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