If you have ever felt klutzy or awkward in social situations, then you have nothing to worry about! Author, Psychologist and interpersonal relationship expert Ty Tashiro tells Viki Shah, why it’s awesome…
1. WHAT ARE THE MAIN CHARACTERISTICS OF A SOCIALLY AWKWARD PERSON?
Well, I kind of like to give 2 definitions; there’s awkward moments and we all have awkward moments, they are just deviations from small social expectations, so not having spinach between the teeth or remembering to say goodbye or ghosting from a party, these are small social graces and there are hundreds of them every day and when we deviate from those it can be really embarrassing, so those are awkward moments everyone can relate to. Awkward people have a lot more awkward moments, but there are reasons psychologically why they have those awkward moments. They see the world in a very unique and different way. The word awkward actually has interesting root, its afugr – an old Norse word and it means facing a different direction and I really like that because it really captures the meaning! Psychological researchers suggest that if they’re not looking at what everyone else’s is looking, maybe they’re looking at something interesting; so, you see this overlap between giftedness creativity and social awkwardness because that’s a unique perspective.
2. IS BEING AWKWARD PART OF YOUR NATURE OR IS IT AN OUTCOME OF CIRCUMSTANCES?
There are good twin studies about this comparison, both identical twins or fraternal and they find that this trait is about 55% inheritable in boys and 39% inheritable in girls so there is a bit of biological or genetic component and then your family environment and your social environment that accounts for the rest of it so sometimes when people hear that something is inheritable, it can make them nervous like there’s nothing I can do about it, but it’s important to keep in mind that for boys still 45% is environmental so they can really improve a lot; families can do a lot to help get rid of this awkwardness naturally.
3. IS BEING AWKWARD SAME AS BEING NERVOUS, I MEAN ARE THEY RELATED?
Yeah, actually that’s a good question. There are two things; I think there’s social anxiety of being nervous and there’s introversion and then there’s awkwardness and while they are all related to each other they are a little bit different, so social anxiety and being nervous about social situations tends to be based on an irrational fear that you are going to ruin the interaction and do something dumb or mess it up, now one thing I say about awkward people is their fear is not irrational about this messing up, they actually do mess up the social situations. With the average person, they might feel anxiety, but that anxiety is actually good because it motivates them to think ahead about how I can handle the situation. When you think ahead, you can often think about, okay, these are the things I should prepare or be ready for. Introversion in a similar way overlaps with awkwardness but introversion is a preference, so introverts would prefer a one on one conversation, and they prefer more alone time than the average person, but awkward people just don’t understand how to navigate these social situations, so introversions are a preference and awkwardness is a lack of ability.
4. IS BEING AWKWARD AKIN TO A NERVOUS DISORDER?
It’s not diagnosable which is interesting so there’s no category really for it I think that’s one of the interesting things about psychology right now coz’ we’ve been so obsessed I guess, in some ways with diagnosing people for decades.
5. YEAH, PUTTING THEM INTO SOME BRACKETS…
Yes, some category, we like categories, but you know we’re finally wiser enough. I think in psychology we’re understanding things like everything is not either or, let’s say somebody is at the top 10 percentile of social skill problems or the top 10 percentile of depressive symptoms, they are not diagnosable with something like Asperger’s with major depressive disorders but they’re still struggling for years, for decades and they are what we subclinical and do not receive the attention and help that they really need, and I think this is the positive development.
6. TELL US HOW AWKWARD CAN AWESOME.
I should mention I guess, that I was a very awkward kid and sometimes I created stress for me or nervousness but there are a couple things that I think I ended up being awesome at! One of the things that researchers find about social awkwardness is that it overlaps with giftedness or creativity and it’s probably because the awkward person is seeing the world with a different perspective. They are facing a different direction, so they tend to see unique things other people don’t see, they tend to see the world in much more detailed ways, and they like to obsess about these details. Awkward people take towards things like engineering, science, music and kind of things where you could study skills or small details and get really good at those and add those up to something meaningful. Awkward people are really good at focusing on details, they’re great at being persistent and practicing things and then because they’re putting things together from the bottom up into something whole, they sometimes put things together in many different ways.
7. AND IS IT EVEN BECAUSE THEIR ATTENTION IS NOT DIVERTED BY OTHER THINGS?
Yeah, a lot of psychologists will call it a rich inner life. I actually love that term and you have probably met kids who have a rich inner life, they’re very unique in that way and they can get lost in their mind with music or with a story and it’s really wonderful, but if they’re doing that and getting absorbed in experiences then they can distract from other things that might require their attention.
8. IS IT TRUE THAT ALL NERDS ARE SOCIALLY AWKWARD?
I think so, when I was a teenager, nerd was the popular term at that time, people don’t really call you awkward. One of the surprising things I’ve learned since this book came out has come from people who are married to awkward husbands and it’s been really heartwarming how much they appreciate their awkward spouses’ perspective. They are these socially adept people and when they get stuck with problems or issues and discuss it with their awkward spouse, even though it seems they weren’t paying attention because they didn’t have to say something right away, they have actually been marinating and thinking about the situation and often times provide a really good insight.
9. DO YOU THINK BEING AWKWARD CAN HINDER CAREER PROSPECTS FOR SOME PEOPLE?
Absolutely, you know as we move more towards what they call soft skills or kind of social skills like empathy for example than being more important, yeah, if someone doesn’t have those capabilities that’s what really going to set them back, so it’s like what my folks would always tell me; they’d say, “Ty you need to figure out how to fit in without leaving yourself,“ and that was the great way to put it.
10. SO, IS THAT YOUR TOP TIP TO OVERCOME IT?
I think probably that would be it because you know parents I think, could make a mistake and say “oh, this not how a kid should be!” I don’t think that’s a good idea, kids actually do need to learn social grace but on the other hand parents should not get rid of the unique characteristics that might make them odd or eccentric. So, its more complicated for the parent of an awkward kid or for an awkward kid or an awkward person because these are both things they need to attend to at the same time, the uniqueness and the remedial.
11. YOU HAVE SAID THAT AWKWARD PEOPLE READ FACES DIFFERENTLY, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
They do. There’s a really cool equipment that psychologists use in the lab now. They put some laser on your pupils and that laser doesn’t hurt them, but it allows researchers to track within a millimeter of where you’re looking at any point of time, so if there’s a picture of a face on a computer screen they can tell exactly where you’re looking at on that face. What most people do when a face pops up on a computer screen is, they look reflexively to the eye region which is smart. The eyes are the windows of the soul of sorts and hide the most information about how someone might be feeling. Awkward people by comparison reflexively look at the chin or the corner of the ears which are much less information rich areas and it can come across as rude, if someone’s looking at your feet or looking at your chin, it can be uncomfortable. You think they are not listening but it’s actually kind of heartwarming why awkward people do that! Neurological studies say that when awkward people look other folks in the eye it’s too intense, it’s almost like looking into the sun for too long, awkward people experience a personal emotional experience very intensely and at a point of intensity that’s actually really uncomfortable, so at a young age, actually in infancy, they learn a flexible look- away in the eyes because it actually dampens the emotional intensity of the situation. There’s nothing malicious about it, it’s just a bit unsettling and it’s good for us to be empathetic about that in awkward people. This is actually a good example of how you could coach an awkward person. People with social skills maintain eye contact for about 3.2 seconds and then they look away for about second and back on for about 3.2 seconds. Roughly this is how it is and so it’s a great opportunity to work with awkward people and say when it matters, look for 3.2 seconds in the eyes which I know it feels uncomfortable for you, but that’s actually making other person feel at ease you’re making them feel welcome and look away for a second and in 3.2 back on. If it’s a teenager they don’t really appreciate this I know, but those were exactly the kinds of specific skills that I needed to hear.
12. HOW DID YOU GET ON TO THIS SUBJECT?
When I finished my first book which is about science on choosing a romantic partner, I knew I wanted to write something about close relationships but not sure what? At that time I had a bunch of friends in New York who had moved into the city, who were awkward and I knew they were great people, great character, very interesting, kind, and I watched them at parties, social situations that weren’t perfect for them and I watched them as they struggled and it was really sad to me because they would get rejected by all those people and I thought this was so sad because it was sad for my friends who felt bad getting rejected and was also sad for those people who were doing the rejection, they were missing out on cool people. They were missing out on this person who has all the qualities that really matter. I had a random thought that if these folks could just get their first five minutes of social interaction I think they’ll be a lot better off and so that’s what got me curious and it turns out that after all this research relevant to awkwardness, no one had really written a popular press book about it and even with my history as an awkward kid, I thought it would be a fun topic to share.
“I started doing yoga about four years ago, I love it and yoga has been my break from my calmness in social situations and I am sure it could be the case for a lot of people, most specially for an awkward person. Awkward kids and adults, they actually have what we call proprioception which is having a hard time knowing where their body parts are in space. If they are not looking at them, they can be clumsy and trip over things and yoga helps here and has been great for me”!
Ty Tashiro is an Author and Relationship Expert. Find out more on www.tytashiro.com