We’ve all had awkward blunders seared into our memories, haunting us in the seconds right before we drift off to sleep. Those awkward moments are uncomfortable and unavoidable, but what if we could get better at handling them? What if those moments could actually be beneficial?
In her recently published book, Good Awkward: How to Embrace the Embarrassing and Celebrate the Cringe to Become the Bravest You, Henna Pryor makes the case for harnessing our awkwardness. She argues that embracing awkwardness can be a powerful catalyst for personal and professional growth.
Pryor shares how we can reframe these moments, which will help us to be less awkward. She also explains how adopting a new mindset can transform awkwardness into an opportunity for authenticity, no matter the setting.
Henna Pryor says awkwardness is both subjective and universal
Pryor explains it’s important to remember that awkwardness is subjective, especially when we try to label ourselves as awkward.
“So there is no such thing as a factually awkward person,” she says. Not only that, but awkwardness is a universal emotion inherent in the human experience. It’s not reserved for introverts or those perceived as less confident. Understanding and accepting this universality is the first step toward embracing awkward moments. And that person who seems like they’ve never had an awkward moment in their life? They’ve simply mastered their comeback rate.
“They’re able to come back from those feelings a lot faster; they don’t have to get hooked by them,” Pryor explains. “If we can accept it as a universal emotion, one that everyone experiences, and start to lay the foundation when [awkwardness] does inevitably come, then it’s so much easier to accept that this is not just us. It’s a human experience.”
Awkward doesn’t mean inept
When we’re at work and create an awkward moment, it’s easy to overthink things and assume our colleagues or clients find us incompetent. The jump to make awkwardness synonymous with weakness or incompetence is dangerously easy.
However, a key distinction that Henna Pryor makes is that awkwardness and ineptitude are not synonymous. While we may feel awkward in certain situations, it doesn’t necessarily reflect our competence or capabilities.
“Early in the book, I make the comparison that I would never hire an inept anesthesiologist. But I would be perfectly fine hiring an awkward one, right?” Pryor says. “So if you are generally—at work or in your social circles—seen as competent, smart, capable, can get things done and you happen to have an awkward moment, a cringe moment, or an embarrassing situation, you will not generally be seen as incompetent as a result. You will actually generally be seen as human and often, not always but often, more warm and likable because of it—because you brought humanity to the table.”
Awkwardness is a social emotion, and Pryor says part of releasing the power from those awkward moments comes down to reassessing the stories we tell ourselves after awkward moments. We can examine the stories we’ve told ourselves about approval and social acceptance. This involves challenging contaminative narratives and fostering a more redemptive perspective, focusing on personal growth rather than perceived failure.
How to be less awkward: Practice makes perfect
Pryor also explains we live in a society where we try to optimize our social interactions.
“These days we really don’t have to put ourselves in situations that may create an awkward or embarrassing exchange,” she says, pointing to examples like ordering food through apps like DoorDash, texting our friends from the car to let them know we’ve arrived and closing the elevator doors as soon as we get in to avoid sharing the elevator space with others.
“We increasingly reduce the amount of times that we have those kinds of interactions, and it’s far too easy to avoid in-person interaction with new people,” Pryor says.
In a society increasingly designed to minimize unplanned social interactions, Pryor advocates for intentional practice. Just as physical muscles need exercise, our social muscles require regular engagement. Pryor suggests starting small, like initiating a conversation during a grocery store visit or offering a toast during a family dinner. These small, intentional interactions help build the confidence to navigate larger, potentially awkward scenarios.
“Creating moments for these little social interactions is what builds the muscle for the inevitable very human interactions where awkwardness is likely to occur,” she says. “But if we don’t have practice, then we cannot muster the courage to have the conversations we need to or tolerate the awkwardness we’re going to eventually experience in the big moments.”
Shifting your mindset: Go from avoiding awkwardness to embracing it
When learning how to be less awkward, the key is to shift your mindset and embrace awkwardness. Instead of optimizing interactions for smoothness, Pryor encourages people to intentionally embrace encounters that invite awkwardness. By reframing these moments as opportunities for authenticity and growth, individuals can gradually shift their mindset from avoidance to embrace.
As we rewire our mental pathways, viewing social interaction as a practiced skill and fostering a mindset shift, we can cultivate a unique form of confidence—one that is both genuine and endearing.
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