How To Cure Social AwkwardnessPosted: February 1, 2013 | |
I was at a conference this week, which means lots of “networking”. Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I don’t do networking.
The reason I don’t like networking is because I hate small talk. And I’m bad at it. And because I’m bad at it I end up coming across as really socially awkward. If I don’t have anything I actually want to say and I try to say something anyways, it doesn’t go well. So what I’ve realized is that I do much better if I act like myself, rather than trying to go through the motions of being formal and professional.
The trade-off is that I’m a total weirdo, so when I act like myself I come across as a total weirdo.
Here’s what it looks like:
At 8:30 on Wednesday morning I spotted my boss and his boss and a bunch of other guys doing that weird stand around in a circle and make up things to talk about thing that people do when they need to kill time at conferences. I went over and said hi and good morning, and then there was an awkward pause because people aren’t great at making up things to talk about before they’ve finished their coffee. So my boss broke the silence by introducing me to someone he’s already introduced me to three times.
Boss: Oh, Emily, have you met Jeremy?
Me and Jeremy in unison: Yeah, we’ve met. Good to see you again. (Bla bla bla, insert some other pleasantries here.)
Me: Actually, I almost swung by your office yesterday when I was trolling for snacks. But I didn’t, because I don’t know you that well and I didn’t want you to think I was weird (my boss and I had been visiting the offsite office where Jeremy works for some meetings while we were in town for the conference).
Me: Yeah, I was hungry. (And this guy looks like a bodybuilder. Guys like that always have snacks)
Jeremy: Oh! Well you should have come by. I have some plantain chips, those are my favorite. Do you like those? And I have granola bars. And if you’re more of a salty snack kind of girl I’ve got some pistachios.
Me: Wow, we could have had a feast.
Jeremy: Next time swing by and you can have whatever you want. And if I’m not there, help yourself.
And next thing you know the whole group has launched into an entertaining discussion about how many times you have to meet someone before it’s appropriate to ask them for snacks.
I behave like this (and worse) all the time, and it’s probably safe to say that I am often unprofessional. But being authentic is more important to me than being professional, so “just being myself” is a risk I’m willing to take.
And the funny thing is, I seem to be getting away with it.
On the plane on the way home I was reminiscing about the first time I attended/presented at this specific conference two years ago. I remember feeling really out of my league. I remember being overwhelmed by the mob of men I didn’t know. And I think I made appropriate, polite small talk, but I don’t remember because appropriate, polite small talk is very unmemorable. But I do remember that I was NOT talking to strangers about stealing their snacks in front of a bunch of executives.
I think what allows me to get away with being such a weirdo now is that I’m much more established in the field than I was a couple years ago. I’ve developed a good reputation and people respect my work. And once you’ve earned people’s respect, you can get away with a lot more bad behavior; people will tolerate weirdness if it’s a side-effect of talent.
So what this means to me is that I can act a lot more goofy without worrying that people will think I’m a ditz. And I plan to take full advantage of that.
Just in case you were wondering, the guys decided that it’s not appropriate to ask someone for snacks until you’ve met them at least three times. But… doing what’s appropriate doesn’t seem to work for me…
I’ll make sure to ask after only two.