Introducing you to Dan from Improve Your Social Skills. Dan is a social skills coach for people overcoming social awkwardness.
Jade: You describe yourself as being the ‘most socially awkward kid’ you could meet when you were growing up. Is this the same thing as being shy? If not, how are shyness and social anxiety different in your opinion?
Dan: I think there’s a difference between shyness and awkwardness. In my opinion, shyness means that being social makes you nervous, or you find it unpleasant in some way. Social awkwardness means that you’re not very good at social interaction. Of course, the two often overlap, but it’s possible for someone to have one but not the other. For instance, you might find social interaction anxiety-producing, but you can interact just fine — in that case, you would be shy but not awkward. Or you might love talking to other people, but you constantly do and say the wrong thing — in that case, you would be awkward but not shy.
That being said, I don’t think these words are all that helpful to describe people. If you say “I’m shy” or “I’m awkward”, it can be a negative label that you’re putting on yourself. It’s better to say things like “I’m feeling shy right now” or “That was an awkward conversation.” Don’t label yourself with these words — use them to label your experiences.
(Of course, it’s okay to use these words if they don’t feel negative to you — I sometimes describe my past self as “awkward”, but that doesn’t make my current self feel bad in any way.)
Jade: If you could go back in time to speak to your younger, socially awkward self, what would you say?
Dan: It gets better. It’s not your fault. You will find friends who accept you just as you are. Don’t give up.
Jade: On your blog you state that the reason for your extreme social awkwardness when you were younger was because you have Asperger’s Syndrome. You said that getting diagnosed with Asperger’s was a positive, life-changing moment for you. Why did getting a diagnosis help you so much along your journey?
Dan: Asperger’s helped me understand why I was struggling socially. Before my Asperger’s diagnosis, I just thought there was something wrong with me. Like I thought I was just a really unlikable person, and that’s why nobody seemed to enjoy spending time with me.
But after I received my diagnosis, I realized that there was nothing inherently wrong with me. It’s just that I had never learned social skills, because Asperger’s had prevented me from picking them up naturally. In other words, I had the power to fix my social problems — I just needed to learn the skills I was lacking.
And that was a huge turning point for me, because now I had a plan. I could deliberately study social skills. I could spend time practicing the things I had learned.
The psychologist Carol Dweck talks about this idea of a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe that their ability is fixed, and there’s no way to get better at something. People with a growth mindset believe that they can get better, and even if they’re bad at something today, they can get really good at it if they keep practicing.
And my Asperger’s diagnosis was the thing that switched me over to a growth mindset. I used to think “I’m just really bad socially, and I’m doomed to always be that way.” But when I received my diagnosis, I started to think “I’m bad socially, but if I study these skills, I’ll get better.” This was a huge shift.
Jade: Of everything you have learnt about social skills over the last 10 years, what skill do you think is the most important thing for socially anxious people to learn?
Dan: You are probably much more critical of yourself than other people are of you. It’s very common for anxious people to make a small mistake and then beat themselves up about it for a long time. The fact is, everyone makes social mistakes. The main difference is that non-anxious people shrug off the mistakes and get right back into the conversation, whereas anxious people let the mistake derail them.
Of course, it’s one thing to say “Just don’t worry about it” — it’s quite another to actually do that. So if you are socially anxious, I recommend that you consider seeing a professional therapist. Therapists are usually quite good at helping you combat your anxiety and learn to not blow your social mistakes out of proportion.
You can also try to fight the anxiety by doing just a tiny bit more than you normally would. So if you would normally leave a conversation right after you make your first mistake, try leaving the conversation after the second mistake, instead. If you would normally say no to a party invitation, try going to the party and leaving after 30 minutes. You don’t have to go all-in. Just do a bit more than you would normally, and your anxiety will start to lose its power.
Jade: You have written a guide called ‘Improve Your Social Skills‘ – who should read it and why?
Dan: I start my book with my manifesto. And I realize that sounds kind of weird — like normally we associate manifestos with Karl Marx, or with crazy guys that live in the woods. But that’s not my kind of manifesto. My manifesto is the core of why I wrote the book. It’s the things that I fervently believe. It’s the things I wrote the book to share. And so I guess if you read my manifesto and it moves you, if something in you says “Yes!” to the manifesto, then my book is for you. You can read my manifesto here.
Of course, if my manifesto doesn’t move you, you can still buy my book, and you’ll probably benefit from the skills you learn there 🙂 But the person I had in mind as I wrote it is someone who really needs to hear the words of my manifesto.
Thanks for the interview Dan 🙂 Check out Dan’s website to view his articles and videos about social skills topics. CLICK HERE.