Whether you’re looking for a date, trying to make some new friends, or attempting to sustain an existing relationship, are you the one to make it awkward for people to get to know you?
If you know me, you’ll know I love talking to people about the relationships in their lives. Relationships are usually the greatest source of joy or the greatest source of distress in our lives. I find talking about them the most pertinent way to find out how a person is really doing in life. No matter what achievements or lack thereof clutter the surface of conversation, when a person is on their own, they will sit and brood over the current health of their love and relational loves.
I’m writing this as Valentine’s Day approaches, which is always the time when the relationship button gets pressed the most. Single girlfriends get together all over the country to remind themselves they’re not alone. Single men sit at home lamenting another missed opportunity this year. People in relationships feel the pressure to have to express gratitude and love that they may not feel like is there any more.
And when it’s not in the world of romantic love, people are often pressured by their lack of real friends. When crisis hits or when something to celebrate comes around, you’re suddenly reminded about the health of your friendships, or the fact that you don’t really have anyone you feel like you can talk to. It’s a dark and painful place.
I thought it would be apt to write about one of the biggest obstacles to finding a love connection and making and keeping our friends, as this is the one thing that most of us complain about other people.
They’re just so awkward.
You know how it is – you’re trying out talking to this guy cause your friends just can’t shut up about how good you two would be together, and in the first 5 minutes, you’re already thinking of running for the hills. You’re meeting up with the boys and someone brings their new friend, and he just can’t make eye contact or say anything that you find yourself interesting at all. What a weirdo.
Why do so many people make it awkward for people to get to know them?
You don’t fit in, but you should
I must admit I know a lot of how this experience goes. I come from the world of nerds. In fact, I may just be the king of the nerds. I have first class honours in IT, majoring in Games Technology (AKA games programming). I have 15 or so video game consoles, I have extensive knowledge of all sorts of Microsoft technology, and everyone who comes to my house believes it to be a den of nerdery.
I’ve tried to watch the show The Big Bang Theory, but I don’t find it funny, simply because what people laugh about are the same things I hear people talk about at lunch. I always thought it was fairly normal for people to be talking about astrophysics or their favourite Pokemon.
And as I’ve become older, I’ve realized more and more the truth about nerds, and it’s this – everyone is a nerd about something. Yes, the people who used to be the athletic cool types have been revealed in their 30s to be accurately reclassified as being sports nerds all along. There are travel nerds, game nerds (like me), relationship and theology nerds (still like me), farming nerds, and any other type of nerd you can think of. Everyone is weird – you need to get over it.
And yet we still maintain that people fall into the nerd category because they don’t fit the mold. In truth, none of us really fit the mold, and yet all of us need to learn to.
Like a body part has a distinct purpose that sets it apart, but still falls into function and context with the rest of the body, so too we can’t be so obsessed with our differences that we miss how much we are the same. There was a fascinating Ted Talk a while ago about how every human is unique, but only by a 0.06% difference from anyone else. And yet how obsessed we become about how different we are.
I also heard a great comment in the last week about how every person has the same dreams. Although you may be a nerd of a different category, you and the people you feel like it’s so hard to befriend want to be loved, to have shelter, to find your purpose, and to grow more and more into the person you’re supposed to be.
We make it awkward for people when we obsess over our differences instead of the greater commonality we actually share.
Knowing more about fictional worlds than the real one
My wife and I have recently gone through the game Final Fantasy XV. She enjoyed the story so much that I went back and showed her the world of the three games in the FFXIII series. Fictional worlds can definitely be a lot of fun for escapism and leisure, but they’re not as fun if they start to replace your existence in the real world.
If memes have taught us anything, it’s that people think it’s hilarious how much TV they watch. In 2017, people streamed one billion hours of Netflix… per week. The fantasy novel genre continues to be popular. People love their TV shows and video games and novels, and this can be a healthy and a good thing.
But a sad reality for many is that they can tell you the names of the first 30 episodes of Brooklyn 99, they can tell you what colour shirt Jim was wearing in the first episode of Season 9 of The Office, they can let you know the games coming out this year by day or who’s the new villain in the new comic book series or some other fictional event that’s taken place to shake up that universe forever…
…and yet they can’t tell you how their friends have been doing this week. They can’t let you know the last time they discovered something new about the people they say they know best. They stand around awkwardly when no one knows how to talk to them at the party, because all they talk about is one of these many worlds that doesn’t exist.
If all you do is consume fictional worlds, it’ll show. If your time is constantly spent away from reality, then it should be no surprise to you when others feel like you’re making it awkward when they try to get to know you. Leisure is good, escapism is good, but don’t live so far removed from the real world that you have nothing real to talk about. You could keep blaming everyone else that feel misunderstood, or you could simply learn more about the world you really live in rather than the world you wish you did in your imagination.
Finding common ground
I remember that once I had discovered how nerdy every single person was, and had come to the realization of how similar every person on earth really is, I found that it made it so much easier to get to know people.
One of my favourite things to do (hence I’m writing this) is to break down the walls of awkwardness and show people where they have common ground with the people around them. By asking enough questions and putting out enough of the different things about myself, I find that eventually I find a show we both like, an instrument we both play, a common experience we’ve both shared, or a dream we both are challenged by, and oh look the person who’s also standing with us connects on that point too.
Start every conversation with the intention that you’re going to find the common ground that you share with this person. When that is your intention, rather than getting depressed and fearful and oh no oh dear I have nothing to talk about I’ll look at my phone til you go away, you find that it’s much easier to make meaningful connections with everyone.
Building common ground
My wife and I share three of the four same dimensions in the Myers Briggs Personality scale thing. She’s an INFP, and I’m an INFJ. Before we started dating, we had already known each other around 15 years as friends. We had common interests in a number of TV shows and especially in our views on God, church, and people.
And yet there is still so much difference between us in so many ways. As a result, we always make it a personal challenge to ourselves to not just find common ground with each other, but to build common ground.
Every single couple on earth is the same. No matter how similar you were from the start, you have to put into the work to build common experiences. It’s the same as friendships. Meeting at the same places as each other, trying something new together, having a change of scenery, trying to discover the interests and the world of this other person – all of these go a long way to removing the awkward from your relationships and friendships.
You want people to be in your world, but how much effort have you been putting in to getting in theirs?
Being genuinely interested
I’m about to give you the secret to being genuinely interested in people, for free. Here it is – the secret to being genuinely interested in people… is being genuinely interested.
It’s not rocket science. If you’re not interested, if you don’t attribute value to what a person has to say or what they care about, then they’ll bore you and you’ll keep blaming them because they make it awkward for you.
But when you assign value to the words and feelings and concerns of this person, it’s amazing how much gold you’ll discover in the heart within.
Feeling like you have something to say
The Gottman Institute reshared an article this week about the pursuer-distancer pattern in relationships. They have observed in their counselling studies that when a person pursues too fiercely, they can push another person away. Conversely and more commonly though in their greater body of research, they observe that a person who doesn’t believe they have much to contribute will attempt to put distance between themselves and others, and pull away.
When you allow fear and insecurity to rule your life, you’re going to be like King George the Sixth in all your relationships, and not just when you’re making The King’s Speech, but in other relational dynamics, you will be left struggling and hesitant about what you say.
You have a voice. You will be much easier to listen to when you believe it.
I could tell you that you need to get better at eye contact, stand up straight, and give proper attention to the person you are speaking to and how you’re communicating it. But I find that if you can get this attitude right, it’s amazing how quickly the rest becomes natural.
Questions are king
In one of my old connect groups, I was called “Mini Maxwell” because of how many times I quote leadership guru John C Maxwell. I can’t help it fam, he’s just so right about so many things. I would say that one of the greatest lessons I learnt from him, and fortunately at a young age by reading the book Leading From The Lockers in my pre-teens, is the importance of asking questions.
I’m going to reveal to you the secret of every conversation you’ve ever had that ended awkwardly: one or both of you stopped asking questions. You either assumed there was nothing left to find out, or nothing you wanted to find out. Or perhaps you’ve just never thought about it enough to realize that conversation and discovery of another person ends in a question.
I absolutely love to ask people questions. In fact, in any conversation you’ll have with me, you’ll find that I’ll be asking more questions about you than you’ve probably ever heard. I’ve found that by doing so, I get to hear the heart of a person, as well as ensuring there’s always something to keep talking about. I may not have been to that country you just got back from, watched that TV show you seem to love, or had that relational experience that you’ve been through, but man, I would love to hear about it.
You will become the less awkward person you know if you turn the attention off yourself, off how the other person is so awkward and weird, if you’ll just ask.
If you don’t know how to start, just Google “good questions to ask“.
Here’s three I always love to ask and find universal enough to get a good conversation going:
- What’s the best thing that’s happened to you this week?
- Whats your favourite Disney movie, and why? And your least favourite?
- If you had unlimited money and unlimited education, what would you be doing? What is the fairytale ending in your life?
I find it sad how truly lonely people are. Desperately lonely, at that. And so many of us feel that it’s all these other people who make it awkward to get to know them.
But the truth is, we establish the standard of awkward in our lives. It just doesn’t have to be that way where you feel like you have no one to talk to and nothing to talk about.
I really hope that you find in your life the confidence in your own voice, as well as the great wealth that lives in the people around you. Life is so much more rewarding when we’re not blaming awkwardness for our poor relationships, but when we help break down the walls in communication that really don’t have to be there at all.
How about you? Do you hate it when people make it awkward to get to know them? How do you overcome awkwardness?