How Not to be Awkward as an Introvert and/or Thinker

Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on January 20, 2016
Categories: INTJ, INTP, ISTJ, ISTP

Hi there.

If we were meeting in person right now, this would be a whole lot more awkward. For starters, the lead-up to me saying “hi” would include lots of shuffling feet, false starts, and darting eyes. Once I greeted you and introduced myself, I’d be struggling to figure out how much eye contact to make and end up settling for staring at your nose instead. (Don’t worry—there’s nothing wrong with it.) If you went in for a handshake, I hope you ended it first because I always just assume that the other person will stop first, which means we could be shaking hands until muscle fatigue sets in if it’s let up to me.

All in all, I can be a pretty awkward person. Being both a Thinker and an Introvert probably doesn’t help matters much. I’m an INTJ, and my type in particular is known for being a tad oblivious in social situations.

As a Thinker, I have trouble anticipating what will or will not cause a certain emotional response. I struggle to walk the fine line between being honest and straightforward and being rude and insensitive. Sometimes I overcompensate and am overly polite or formal for fear of messing up and being perceived as a jerk.

As an Introvert, being friendly and outgoing doesn’t always come naturally to me. What if I say something too personal? Or what if I don’t say enough? How long is a normal amount of time for this conversation to last? If I want to be done with a conversation, how do I get out? How do I tell the host that I’m leaving?

For the last one, I’m becoming adept at the “Irish good-bye.” For the other problems, I’ve tried to observe and learn from the Feelers and Extraverts around me. I have an ENFP and an ENTP in my life who have been very useful for this anthropological research of mine. (Perhaps their Perceiver-ness enables them to improvise better in social situations as well?)

Not What, but How

It might be oversimplifying to say that it’s not what you say but how you say it that matters -- but it is also true to an extent. Now I’m not advocating for you to go tell your mother-in-law that her new haircut makes her head look like a turnip and then follow it up with a big laugh to make it all okay. Even I know that that’s rude.

What I am saying though is that you should act engaged in your conversation with the other person, have open body language (no folded arms), and wear an at least moderately pleasant facial expression. This way people are unlikely to judge anything you say too harshly as long as it’s not downright offensive.

I’ve been told by friends that I often look worried or confused, and I myself have noticed that I often unconsciously furrow my brow. In order to combat my resting concerned face, I try to consciously think about what my face is doing every so often. Am I unintentionally making an expression that does not match my feelings or the feeling that I wish to convey? Is my smile starting to feel forced?

Acknowledge the Awkwardness

This can’t be used much more than once per conversation, but this is the best trick I’ve stolen from my ENFP friend. It doesn’t always mean giggling nervously and saying, “Well this is awkward,” every time either. But something like, “Sorry if this is weird, but where did you get that jacket? I love it!” can work well if you’re uncomfortable giving a complement. Or if the conversation is drying up and you want to switch to a radically different subject you can say, “This is totally unrelated, but…” or “Really random, but I was just thinking about….”

The other person has definitely been in your shoes before, and they might even be in them with you in this very conversation. (The awkward shoes are big shoes—kind of like clown shoes.)

Be Confident

I know, I know. Such cliché advice. But it’s true. If you act like you have confidence in yourself and that you like yourself, the other person will likely feel like they should too—as long as you don’t cross the line and seem like a narcissist.

When my ENTP and I first met and I asked him what he did, he told me about his less-than-glamorous job with zero shame and complete comfort. He acknowledged that it was not his dream career, but he made it clear that he didn’t mind doing it for the time being. It wasn’t until I told my (white-collar) friends about his (blue-collar) job that I realized that it could be perceived in any way other than how he had wanted me to see it.

How you see and treat yourself has a big influence on how other people see and treat you, so project confidence and contentment.

Be Nice

Ok, now I’m really just stating the obvious. But honestly, even if you are a tad awkward, if you’re at least a nice awkward person, most people won’t hate you (or even find you that awkward).

Give a complement. Ask the other person a question about themselves. Say things like “thanks” and “nice to meet you.” It’s not hard—remember the whole, “it’s not what you say but how you say it” thing from the first tip?

I think sometimes we (awkward people everywhere) get so caught up in worrying about our own awkwardness that we forget basic social conventions. Right? Or am I just an exceptionally awkward/unintentionally rude person?

So what about all of you? Are you awkward? How do you pretend to be a fully functional person? I can always use new tips!

Rachel Suppok

Rachel holds a B.S. in Neuroscience and usually a cup of coffee. She is an INTJ, but she is not a super-villain. Yet.

Folow Rachel on Twitter @rsuppok.

More from this author...
About the Clinical Reviewer

Steven Melendy, PsyD., is a Clinical Psychologist who received his doctorate from The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. He specializes in using evidence-based approaches in his work with individuals and groups. Steve has worked with diverse populations and in variety of a settings, from community clinics to SF General Hospital. He believes strongly in the importance of self-care, good friendships, and humor whenever possible.


Guest (not verified) says...

I'm a seventeen year old INTP and I experience a lot of what you described. I have huge social issues because I always found small talk very mundane. I realize now that I both need and somewhat want to be social but again; I have most of the issues you described. I found this a big help actually. So thank you.

Guest (not verified) says...

I'm an INTP and I usually have those akward moments, but even though I have the "P" I still have some problems with body language (except for the smile and laugh which I have noticed that most of the time I laugh or smile is for social purposes instead of really being happy or really laughing which I should probably change because it probably gives an impression of being a fake person)

xamnu (not verified) says...

OMG, there are times that I think maybe I'm not an INTJ. But every time I read an article or some description about INTJ behavior, it explains me to a tee. It's like a hidden camera displaying my life and revealing my thoughts. My social scene, which is only my work place for the most part, is a "controlled" environment. I am a health care provider, so when I see my patients I go into a sort of role. What they expect of me is married with what I deliver. I am outgoing and (usually) decisive, intuitive, professional, and I tell them what I want them to do and they listen to me as the expert (usually).
Outside of that setting I am a wilting, awkward wallflower. I try to bridge how I am with my patients with my casual encounters, but I doesn't always work. People are looking for help or advice or medical knowledge, so I have nothing to offer as a conversation unless they start it. And they will start one only if I don't look too self-absorbed which is often the case. All in all, I have no advice to offer.

ImagoLoveya (not verified) says...

Wow!! This was so helpful. Im kind of a mix between an Extravert and and Introvert. I'm loud and crazy around people I know, but around people I'm not conference with I come off as hostile and akward. This has been very helpful. THANKS!!!

Guest (not verified) says...

Ya same, I'm a so an I/E mix. Around people that I'm comfortable with, I'm very loud, but around new people I come off as rude and aloof.

Rinna (not verified) says...

I am an INTP, so, yes, quite an awkward person. I'd love to apply some of these tips in communication, but I  kinda doubt. The thing is: while some people respond very positively to compliments, other may feel uncomfortable because of being complimented (or at least by being complimented by certain people). They most likely love to hear heartfelt compliments from their loved ones and intimate friends, but when an acquaintance says sth. like "Your new hairstyle looks awesome", they think a person who is complimenting them is just seeking for cheap ways to be liked be the compliment recepient instead of saying sth. more interesting and meaningful. Also, even those who respond positively to all those casual niceties might not receive them well from an awkward introvert. They might think that you just want something from them, or are more deeply interested in them than you actually are, because they know that otherwise you wouldn't bother saying such things.
None of these things have ever been said to my face, but I read such complaints in the internet multiple times,  posted by people who were seemingly very put off by all that small talk and niceness, so I am really concerned to try these means myself.

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