The simple answer to this question is yes and no.
Before coming to this conclusion, it’s important to be aware of the various ways that nerves and anxiety can hinder conversational ability, and of the fact that many people who are nervous get very frustrated indeed with themselves and often end-up believing they are socially-inept and blaming lack of social success on it. They also end-up concluding that this is the reason they may have difficulties making friends. What’s more, when they do struggle with the issues that I’m about to illustrate, they often beat themselves-up, and put pressure on themselves to not be shy, not make mistakes and not slip-up which of course, only makes the situation worse; a double whammy.
O greatest importance, some of the symptoms, and more importantly, attempts to avoid feared judgements on the part of others can actually sabotage people socially and be misinterpreted as being aloof, distant, uninterested, bored, judging etc. and can thus make someone uncomfortable. Examples are things like avoiding eye-contact, zoning out in your head worrying about what you’re going to say next to fill the silence, deliberately refraining from saying things; e.g. can’t say that, sounds too… obvious, out of the blue, weird, inappropriate etc. (self-censorship). These behaviours are known as ‘safety-behaviours’ in cognitive behavioural therapy, and many of them play a massive role in hindering social success.
At the same time, people who are shy or socially-anxious can genuinely lack social skills due to the fact that some are severely isolated and don’t have much of a social life and/or are lacking in social experience, which is kind of understandable.
Shyness and social anxiety can be pretty cruel in the sense, in that it stops people affected from expressing themselves and can really give an inaccurate picture of what someone’s really like. What’s more, when shy or anxious people feel they didn’t perform to the beast of their ability, they often beat themselves-up and go over in their heads about how badly they came across or how inept the must appear.
Common conversational mistakes that can be seen as lack of social skills
Let’s explore to what degree some of these supposedly socially-inept qualities might be linked to anxiety and it’s related insecurities. Let’s see how anxiety can cause you to make mistakes, even if your social skills are fine and even if you’re perfectly capable in situations when you’re fully at ease.
This is often seen as a sign of lack of social skills but anxiety can play a significant role to. In situations and conversations where the fear of mind going blank or awkward silences play a part, one might be feeling so much pressure, or be so heavily focused on when the next silence is, or avoiding being quiet at all costs, that they might interrupt people.
Again, an anxious person may be so heavily focused on what people around are thinking, when the next silence will happen, whether they’re saying enough, whether they’re coming across as boring, that they may have little capacity left-over to take-in hat the other person’s saying. This can come across to their conversation partner as not listening or being disengaged. Usually though this problem sorts itself-out once the anxiety-related problem is rectified.
Some of you have probably discovered that the best conversations you’ve had are ones where you really didn’t ask that many questions at all. Free-flowing conversations are usually a mix of question and follow-up statements that can be followed-up in turn, by more statements or questions.
One common, though by no means deadly, conversational mistake is to ask a series of closed questions, followed by one-word answer, followed by more questions and one-word answers. On-the-spot, on-the-spot, on-the-spot for both parties.
Usually, we find it easier to come-up with responses to questions and follow-up what people have said when we’re at ease. because we find it easier to recall relevant information in our minds. When we’re not at ease by contrast, we find this process much harder. When we’re not ‘at ease’ it really means we’re experiencing anxiety that inhibits our cognition, including our ability to recall topics and relevant information.
If the fear of being seen as ‘quiet’ plays a part in your social anxiety or shyness, and if trying to avoid being ‘quiet’ at all costs is a problem for you, then it’s highly likely that you go out of your way to avoid silences; asking as many questions as you possibly can being one way of doing so.
Sometimes interrogating people when you genuinely can’t think of anything to follow up can be a way of avoiding silences; a safety-behaviour.
Not responding much to people’s attempts to start conversations; giving one-word answers/little to work with
This is really the flip side to the above. Sometimes if we are shy, we might not say very much if people ask us questions, or if people try to invite us to talk by making statements which they might be expecting us to contribute.
There are a number of reasons why you might have difficult doing this and there are several social fears which could be playing a part. It’s important to note that there are two main reasons why this might be. The first is due to feelings of anxiety directly inhibiting you from thinking of anything to say (mind going blank; a symptom), and the second is deliberately ‘saying little’ to not draw attention to yourself, or to avoid self-disclosure, possibly out of fear of saying something ‘wrong’, disclosing personal information, or a sense that people are trying to judge you/make you jump through hoops (social fears).
If for example, you’re in a crowded situation for example, you might, as with above be more focused on what people around you are thinking. You might be carried away with the trying to say the perfect thing, that your mind is simply too paralysed and locked with anxiety to be able to recall anything to respond with, even if you do have plenty of cool things to share. In this case, a symptom of anxiety due to feeling uncomfortable.
If fears of self-disclosure are playing a part, then this could be one way you might be avoiding it, a safety-behaviour if you will. Sometimes ‘saying very little’ is one of those hard-to-identify, subtle avoidance mechanisms that keeps shyness and social anxiety going. For e.g. you might believe that people will look down on you, you might believe that people will think your boring if they find out you don’t have much of a social life, you don’t do much at the weekend, you don’t lead an ultra-busy life, or whatever you’ve bought-into (unhelpful belief) that leads you to expect a negative judgement. Self-disclosure-related fears will be covered elsewhere.
Talking too much about yourself, trying to brag, trying to prove yourself
Although this is a problem more associated with narcissism that with shyness, social anxiety and low self-esteem, it can be a hindrance to shy people too and it can be caused by insecurities related to shyness, isolation and lack of social experience.
You might well have bought-into the idea that you’ve got to put your best foot forward, that you’ve go to show who you are, that you cannot show any vulnerability at all. You may have bought into the idea that you’ve got to pass a test, that you’ve got to impress people before they accept you, that you have one chance to make a great first impression.
It can hinder someone socially because it can easily be too much.
In a way, it’s a very, very subtle form of avoidance behaviour. At the route, there maybe a more general fear of being open to other’s about who you really are, about revealing vulnerability. The social fears that play a role are closely-related to the fears of self-disclosure of personal information. In a way, this is a very subtle safety-behaviour.
Lack of eye-contact
It’s a well-known fact that shy people make less eye-contact. A lot of people find eye-contact quite intensive and it can be difficult to put your finger on exactly what you’re afraid of. In my opinion it generally revolve around a sense that people can read how you’re feeling and of which they’ll judge you badly by it, or that you’re being overly intrusive, you’ll will provoke or make the other person uncomfortable, or else they’ll read-into you badly.
In addition, if you’re in a social situation that you already find anxiety-provoking enough, such as a crowded, noisy social setting setting with lots of people to mingle with, you might fin maintaining eye-contact even harder. Again, you might be distracted with what’s going-on around you when thoughts racing around in your head about what people are thinking, how inept you must look (the #1 source of uneasiness of shy people in parties and other busy social situations). When that’s the case, it’s doubly-difficult to maintain eye-contact, due to that additional anxiety.
Lack of eye-contact hinders people socially because it can easily be misinterpreted as disinterested as disinterested, distracted, not listening, aloof, judgemental, bored, boring or can give the other person the impression that they’re making you uncomfortable; ‘what have I don’ sort of feeling; the list goes on. Eye-contact, as much advice will say is one of the key elements of communication.
Are these things always a result in a deficit in social skills? Am I really socially inept, crap with people, got no potential?
The short answer is NO. It’s clear now that a lot of common signs of ‘social ineptitude’ really are a result of nerves and anxiety symptoms, and the safety-behaviours employed to try and avoid the feared negative judgements. In addition, when we’re nervous in social situations, and our mind is racing, it can be HIGHLY DISTRACTING.
Whilst it’s definitely true that for some people might be genuine deficits due to lack of social experience, we cannot underestimate the role that anxiety and nervousness, as well as social fears plays in what we think is social ineptitude. The good new is that working on shyness or social-anxiety-related issues adn comfort zone WILL help significantly with any of the issues bought-up in this post if any of them strike a familiar note with you.
fear of awkward silences