Ironically, situations like this are why I’m interviewing Pryor in the first place. Her new book, Good Awkward: How to Embrace the Embarrassing and Celebrate the Cringe to Be the Brave You, challenges the idea that nothing good comes from life’s creepiest moments. In fact, Pryor believes just the opposite—that being so-called “awkward” is not a weakness at all, but often a catalyst for authentic human connection. Knowing how to navigate life’s inevitable awkward moments as they happen and embrace the resulting awkwardness can push us beyond our self-imposed limits, building resilience and inner strength.
“Unless someone has cracked the code on how to eliminate all moments of uncertainty, awkwardness is something you’re going to experience,” says Pryor. “If we want to grow and become better people, then we have to be very conscious of embracing these moments and making them good, not avoiding them altogether.”
Pryor’s operational definition of awkwardness is the social emotion we feel when our internal reality does not match our external reality. “It’s what we feel when our real self is momentarily at odds with the person we appear to be,” he explains. “That tension and that gap is awkwardness.”
“[Awkwardness is] what we feel when our real self is momentarily at odds with the person we appear to be.’ —Henna Pryor, executive coach and author Good clumsy
Case in point: my (temporarily) failed interview. Inside, I know I’m an experienced journalist who can give a proper interview. But what worries me is presenting Pryor—whom I have 30 minutes to make a good impression on—as someone who is unprepared for our conversation and doesn’t take her time seriously. It’s awkward! But what’s weirder is my computer spontaneously restarting in the middle of our Zoom interview without giving her a fair warning. I had to say something.
After much internal discussion, I worked up the courage to tell Pryor what was going on, which she understood was out of my control. We happily agreed to pause our conversation so I could restart my computer and then pick up where we left off. When we did, I was glad I just recognized the elephant in the room instead of thinking about it.
“You have explained the matter…[awkwardness] it exists in uncertainty,” he assures me. “It’s really helpful to have some strategies for how to deal with it proactively, if and when [these moments] arise.”
Are #awkward moments something we wish we could leave behind in 2023? Absolutely. But that’s not the reality – there are many situations where the ways in which other people respond, react and interact with your environment will not be what you expect, and embarrassment is what will follow. “The only thing we can control is our emotion, how we react in the moment and how we frame our self-talk in the future,” says Pryor.
In addition to making sure your computer software is up to date *before* a Zoom call, here are some tips to learn how to prevent and deal with awkwardness.
How to embrace moments of awkwardness whenever they arise
1. Reframe what it means to be clumsy
Pryor says the number one thing you can do to embrace your awkwardness is to think critically about how you use the word “awkward” in the first place. “I want people to be careful about how they use the word ‘awkward’ as it relates to describing themselves or their experience,” she says. “For some people, it’s a limiting box they put themselves in when the truth is there’s no such thing as a truly uncomfortable person.”
She uses herself as an example. A child of immigrant parents, Pryor often felt uncomfortable among her peers growing up. “My clothes didn’t smell like everyone else’s; my food smelled very spicy and aromatic in the cafeteria when everyone else was eating peanut butter and jelly,” she says. “Throughout my childhood, the ‘me’ that I wanted to show off always clashed with the ‘me’ that was happening inside me – the two versions didn’t match.” Even so, this awkwardness and awkwardness around her classmates was still a emotion, says, and not an actual reality. Indeed, clumsiness is subjective.
“Understand that the statement ‘I’m clumsy’ is entirely up to you, and understand that it’s a statement of opinion,” says Pryor. To help you remember this truth, she suggests using language that focuses on awkwardness as a feeling, with statements like “I feel uncomfortable” as opposed to “I’m uncomfortable.”
2. Overcome the “focus effect”
Have you ever felt like everyone has their eyes on you, analyzing your every move? This is the spotlight effect in action. It’s natural to feel self-conscious, as if the spotlight is shining on every aspect of your appearance or actions – which can cause a lot of anxiety, stress and self-doubt. But the reality is, in most cases, most people don’t care about you at all. Even in moments when the spotlight is literally on you, like during a speech or presentation you’re giving, most people will focus more on their own lives and concerns than on your flaws or mistakes.
“As time goes on, people are more concerned about themselves—they’re not paying as much attention to you as you think they are,” says Pryor. “Once we start believing that, it’s very liberating because it’s true.” Reminder: You are not the main character (at least, not always). Breaking free from the illusion of the spotlight will help you create a healthier relationship with yourself and learn to embrace, rather than fear, your terrible interactions or awkwardness.
3. Recognize what you can’t control
It doesn’t—the sooner we can get comfortable with the unexpected, the less awkward things will feel in real time. Pryor says it’s impossible to plan ahead for every scenario. After all, no matter how much you prepare for a presentation or rehearse a talk or get your ducks in a row before an event, you just can’t predict exactly how things will turn out. it’s encouraging to let go of what’s out of your control.
When you’re going through any difficult or tumultuous time (which you will!) Pryor says to focus on the “redemption story” — AKA, the positive outcomes — instead of pinning the shame on the negative. For example, let’s say you were giving a presentation at work when you stumbled over a few words in front of your colleagues. Your face got hot, your hands were dirty, and you lost your train of thought for a moment, but you quickly pulled yourself together and finished it successfully. Instead of focusing on what went wrong and the disgusting feelings you felt, focus on what went right. Yes, that awkward moment wasn’t great, but you still put yourself out there and made it in the end.
“There’s a gift in the trash that came out of that situation,” Pryor says. “Most of us don’t slow down enough to ask ourselves what an experience actually represented and whether we can give it new meaning.”
4. Use awkwardness as social lubricant
Ironically, avoiding awkwardness will only reinforce the feeling of awkwardness – it’s better to acknowledge and embrace your awkwardness, as it happens to lighten the mood. “All it takes is one person to say, ‘Man, that’s crazy…’ and then everyone laughs, their shoulders drop, and the tension leaves the room,” says Pryor. “Avoiding him makes it worse. Its name is connective.”
An easy way to do this is by using humor. Jokes, memes, and even that awkward turtle hand gesture can quickly put you and everyone around you at ease. “Awkwardness is universal,” says Pryor. “The people we see as really capable are the people who lean into it and move through it, not the people who try to pretend it didn’t happen.”
5. Remember: Awkwardness is always temporary
As mentioned, awkwardness is a feeling and feelings don’t last forever. “Remind yourself that awkwardness is a feeling and it will pass,” says Pryor. “Sometimes it takes longer to pass than other times, but it will pass.”
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