In our quest to become great managers, we often try to fit into a predefined mold of the charismatic, outgoing leader who effortlessly charms everyone in the office. But what if you're not naturally inclined toward this extroverted ideal? (Or even if you are, is it even possible to attain?!)
According to workplace performance expert, speaker, and author Henna Pryor, the truth is that many successful managers and leaders have navigated their career paths with varying degrees of awkwardness. While awkwardness is frequently thought of as a negative trait that needs to be cured or a situation to be avoided, Henna discovered that embracing the awkward can actually become a unique superpower in your professional journey.
So why shy away from being awkward when it can help you get ahead in your career?
The Truth About Awkwardness
It's hard to think anything good can come from awkward situations. After all, we grew up experiencing them in so many ways, and has it really gotten any easier?
And yet, having awkward moments isn't actually a bad thing. Henna went on to say that awkwardness is a social emotion that's completely unavoidable. It is the emotion you feel when the person you believe yourself to be is momentarily at odds with the person that people see on display.
In workplaces, awkward moments could be that awkward silence when someone says something that doesn't land well, or complimenting someone in a way that ends up sounding strange. Even missing a deadline can put you in an awkward situation at work because we expect ourselves to perform in a certain way, and yet you missed something.
How to Handle Awkward Situations
If awkwardness is unavoidable, what can you do to make the situation less uncomfortable and keep your dignity intact?
After thorough research, Henna wrote in her book that the key to handling awkward situations starts with creating self-awareness. What stories do you tell yourself about prior awkward situations? How prone are you to getting embarrassed? Often, we overestimate how negative a situation is and therefore overplay the intensity of the experience for ourselves. Instead, we can remember that awkwardness is normal.
Now that you've done the pre-work, let's dive a bit deeper into what we should do when faced with awkward situations.
Henna started off her list by naming the awkwardness. Are you feeling awkward at an event? Approach someone and say, "Wow, this feels awkward." Doing the dance of shaking hands vs hugging vs fist bump vs wave? Simply say, “Ack, it’s always so hard to know what the appropriate greeting is.” When you acknowledge your awkwardness, you come off as socially conscious and, as a result, grant your colleagues permission to give feedback on whether the interaction was awkward or not.
Another option is applying humor techniques. Henna recalled how one of her clients was feeling tense and awkward at an event until she saw two people who were standing off by themselves. Her client approached them and started the conversation by saying, "I bet my sister 20 bucks that I would meet two new people today, and I really don't want to have to pay her 20 bucks. Will you be one of them?" It worked, and it clearly diffused the tension. However, you want to be careful about when and where you use humor, given different cultural norms.
Lastly, she highly suggests that people proactively do improv exercises to help them be more agile in those awkward situations. Improv exercises strengthen your social fitness muscle, so when those awkward moments come, you're more prepared to handle them.
It's time to normalize that leaders aren't perfect, and everyone will find themselves in an awkward situation from time to time. Being awkward actually makes you more human and fosters a workplace with a sense of psychological safety. So go embrace the good awkward.
Listen to my entire conversation with Henna HERE for an in-depth discussion about handling and embracing awkwardness.
Connect with Henna:
- Follow Henna on LinkedIn here
- Follow Henna on Instagram here
- Check out her book here
Giveaway: 3 Signed Copies of “Good Awkward”
Awkwardness isn’t a weakness to fix – it’s your greatest asset for professional and personal growth. Members of The Modern Manager community have a chance to win 1 of 3 copies of Henna Pryor’s book, “Good Awkward: How to Embrace the Embarrassing and Celebrate the Cringe to Become the Bravest You.” We’ll even throw in some bonus stickers!
Bulk Book Discount on “Good Awkward”
Members of The Modern Manager community can get a bulk discount on orders of 25 or more of Henna Pryor’s book. The discount amount depends on the number of books you order.
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