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Beat Social Awkwardness

By: Marianne McGinnis

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Social nervousness is normal. Walking into a party where we know no one can set the most outgoing of us on edge. According to Dr. Martin Antony, professor of psychology at Ryerson University in Toronto, and author of The Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook, more than 80 percent of people describe themselves as shy in certain situations. Luckily, there are ways to push past the discomfort. Here, Antony’s surefire strategies to handle any social setting with grace.

Public Speaking: To erase the jitters, know your material, your audience and rehearse your speech ahead of opening night. But more importantly, take a close look at anxiety-provoking thoughts and extinguish them. Remind yourself that the stakes are not as high as they might feel; you are speaking to a group of equally human people, and feeling a little nervous is perfectly normal. Also, pay attention to your body. Take some slow deep breaths, relax clenched shoulders, stand up straight -- and smile. Being stone-faced can actually increase your level of stress. Finally, says Antony, the key to feeling better in front of a group is exposure. The more you do, the easier it gets. Practice makes perfect (and less cringe-worthy).

Dating: Change your perspective. A date is about seeing if you have enough in common with someone; it’s not a measure of your value as a human being. Also, bring down the intensity of the engagement by keeping first dates low-key and short -- a lunch date or a cup of coffee, instead of a five-course dinner and a night at the opera.

Job Interviews: Ease nerves by preparing properly. Make sure to research the company and know the position of interest. Practice mock interviews with friends or family members who will be willing to role-play and ask difficult questions. Next, understand that some level of nervousness is expected. “When I interview someone who seems overly confident, I wonder if they might make for a difficult co-worker or employee,” says Antony. Finally, be yourself -- it dispels nervousness.

Social Gatherings: Small talk is an art, and knowing how to practice it is key to feeling comfortable at parties and get-togethers. Ask open-ended questions to add richness to a conversation and keep it going. So instead of asking, “Do you like your job?” Say, “Tell me about your job.” Next, look for common interests. If you can’t think of any, ask how the other person knows the host, and share your point of connection. Finally, recognize that all conversations have a natural life span. Often people feel like a failure if they can’t keep the chatter going indefinitely, but that’s unrealistic, says Dr. Antony. When a conversation winds down it’s usually because it has run its course. Don’t feel like you have to engineer an excuse to get away. Tell them it was great to meet them and you hope you’ll have a chance to talk later. Then excuse yourself politely.
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Marianne McGinnis  is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in such publications as Prevention, Better Homes and Gardens, Reader's Digest and Completely You. Marianne also co-authors and ghostwrites books.

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