How to Survive a Socially Awkward Moment and Thrive?
Never Give Up!
First, how do we measure the level of awkwardness that a person feels after an experience heads south faster than the trajectory of a rock rolling down Mount Everest?
For anyone wishing a little extra help imagining this scenario, the height of Mount Everest has officially been pegged at approximately 29,031.7 feet!
It should therefore come as no surprise that the level of social discomfort that anyone goes through in these stressful situations is directly related to the level of importance we place on the event before its occurrence.
By way of example, imagine interviewing for a position that represents your dream job and suddenly as you sit down for your meeting, you hear a huge rip in one of your clothing garments that is also noticed by your interviewer. It would be hard to recover from this horrifying experience because the event was deemed very important to the person being interviewed. In contrast, if a person was enjoying a movie with close friends and suddenly started laughing so hard that a projectile of their beer spills from their mouth across the room, others might laugh but the level of social discomfort generated should still be minimal to non-existent.
Getting back to my personal awkward experience, I had waited for 18 months to see my granddaughter Bella, who lives in Qatar. The last time, I saw my little Angel was when I flew from the U.S. to Qatar to enjoy her miraculous birth! In my mind, I imagined that my first encounter might involve a warm embrace and a big smile. This would essentially encapsulate the intense love I experienced for her from the day she was born.
Her parents warned me that she might be in a bad mood when she arrived in Miami, Florida where I flew to meet the family, but I ignored them and simply wanted to embrace her and take a picture with her to memorialize the experience.
Throwing myself into this adventure, I told my daughter Catherine to take the picture with my I-phone as I hugged Bella. The experience was mind-numbing for me. During the first 3 seconds, Bella looked at me with amazement but within the next 4 to 10 seconds, a horrified look set in. She started to scream at the top of her lungs. It was as if she was being attacked by an alien from Mars!
The level of social discomfort was greater than any I could remember in a very long time. At first, I regretted ignoring my daughter’s warning and then I started questioning whether I had approached her too quickly or with too much enthusiasm.
Next, I started believing that my love for Bella was being rejected in a very painful manner. Luckily Tony, my Son-In-Law quickly saw my horrified and dejected look and assured me that I needed to give her some time to get to know me and that things would improve over time during our week’s stay in Miami. Although his words were well-intentioned, I was only able to absorb a fraction of what he was saying. All I understood is that after waiting for over a year for this special moment, my heart was broken into little pieces. I loved Bella so much that all I could see was her complete rejection.
The mind plays tricks on all of us. When we face social rejection, we begin to replay the scenario in our minds repeatedly trying to figure out how we could have strategized to generate a more positive outcome. Could the person that experienced an embarrassing rip in their wardrobe have worn a more loosely fitting business attire or could they have sat down for the interview differently?
After some deep soul searching and discussing this issue with dozens of people that have gone through similar experiences, I learned that meeting people for the very first time is usually a socially binary experience. It either goes well or it doesn’t. Everyone is wired differently, so a strategy that works well on one person may not work as well with others.
Just because a particular person buys a lottery ticket and wins the top prize doesn’t mean that if one of us does the same that we will win too. So, as Tony told me during my first encounter with Bella, I needed to move on and be patient because over time – things would improve. And while every relationship that fails at the first encounter is not salvageable, we must learn to move on from those and get ready for future ones with the hope and expectation that future encounters will generate better outcomes.
As for me, after about a week of cagy encounters with Bella, she warmed up considerably, not to my desired level, but certainly to a level that allowed my heart to replenish itself with drunken love for her!
The lesson for all of us is that sometimes we must allow a socially awkward experience some time to reverse itself but if it doesn’t, we must learn to let go and open the door to future opportunities. Even if we lose our dream job due to circumstances beyond our control, we must remain open to the possibility that another dream job is out there, possibly at the top of Mount Everest, waiting for us!
About the author
Chan Economics LLC, Public Speaker
Chief Global Economist & Public Speaker JPM Chase ('94-'19).
Senior Economist Barclays ('91-'94)
Economist, NY Federal Reserve ('89-'91)
Econ. Prof. (Univ. of Dayton, '86-'89)