We’ve all been there.

A dinner party at work. A meet and greet at church. An “open house” at school.

Events that should be easy, but we end up making them awkward and uncomfortable.

The good news is that you’re not alone. We’re all awkward! Some more than others, of course.

Let me explain 6 things I’ve done to build confidence and reduce some of the awkward social stress.

1. Lead Your Engagements

We all struggle with different things when it comes to social situations, so let’s start at the beginning: the introduction. When you first meet someone, or see someone you haven’t seen for a long time, don’t wait for them to come talk to you. Go up to them, and extend your hand for a handshake.

Some peoples are huggers, and you know who you are, but make sure that’s OK with the other person. Handshakes are always the safe bet. And remember, the general rule of thumb is that, between a man and a woman, the woman always initiates a hug. The only time a man should ever initiate a hug from a woman is if he is completely confident that she is comfortable with it. But that’s just the general rule of thumb, you can do what you want.

The reason it’s so important to lead the engagement is because we often build things up in our heads. If you struggle with social anxiety, you may be stressing out about how the conversation is going to go before it even starts. You may think things like “am I going to shake his/her hand or just say ‘hello’?”

Don’t you hate when you go up to someone and you’re not sure if they’re going to give you a fist bump, a hug or a handshake?

That’s exactly why you should lead the engagement. You make the call.

2. Use Your Words (Yes, Even With Strangers)

The more people you talk to, the easier social situations will be.

Stir up small talk with strangers while waiting in line at the grocery store, in random elevators, and similar situations. This is a great way to boost your confidence and increase your conversational skills.

When you mess up and it gets awkward, embrace it. We’ll talk about that more in a moment, but you can’t fear awkward situations, unless you want to always be nervous in social settings.

Always have a “what’s the worst that could happen?” mindset when dealing with people.

Let’s saying you step into an elevator with another person. They seem nice, but when you say hello, they scream at you, call you ugly, and curse you for even considering starting a conversation. I think we could all agree that this is the worse case scenario. But so what? If that happened (which would make for a really good story), just stop talking to them and stand awkwardly on the elevator. They’re the weird one. At least you tried.

The point is, even in the worst situations, when they go wrong, nothing happens.

3. Think About Other People

When you think about it, social anxiety comes down to selfishness, from a very “dictionary” standpoint. I’m not saying your selfish if you have social anxiety, I’m simply saying that it’s caused by thinking about yourself.

You may be thinking about yourself and how other people will view you. Stop that. It’s just going to make it worse. I know, because I’ve been there before.

Stop thinking about how well your will “perform” in social situations, and start thinking about what you can do for others. If you’ve read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, then you know that being a good conversationalist means a lot of listening, and minimal talking. That’s good news! That means social situations are even easier than we think.

When you get truly interested in other people, you’ll think less about how you feel in the situation, and more about how the other person feels and what they have going on. Your stutters and awkwardness won’t even be a factor if you’re thinking about how other people feel, instead of how other people feel about you.

What difference does it make if they think you’re awkward? Focus on them.

4. Remember, You’re Not Alone

Even social butterflies experience social anxiety occasionally. You’re definitely not the only one.

It’s just as hard for someone to walk up to you and engage in a conversation as it is for you. We’re all awkward in one way or another. We always tend to feel like everyone else has it figured out, and we’re the odd ducks, but the truth is, very few people have really mastered conversation. And the people who have will always make you feel comfortable anyways.

The difference between you and others is that you’re going to put yourself out there and talk to people all the time. That’s going to boost your confidence and ease your conversations. So you’ll actually be one step ahead of everyone else. Start viewing yourself as a good conversationalist, and that’s exactly what you’ll become.

5. Embrace Your Awkwardness

Face it. There are going to be times when you extend your arm for a handshake as the other person is going for a hug. There will be awkward times sitting by yourself at a restaurant, waiting on your friends to show up (and feeling awkward and alone). You’re going to forget peoples’ names. You’re going to stumble over your words. Awkward situations happen.

All of those things are perfectly fine, because it happens to everyone in the world.

You might as well accept it and embrace the awkwardness. I think social situations are great and stuff like that is hilarious. I have even started pointing it out to people when nobody realized it happened. When I stumble over my words, I like to say “it almost got awkward just now when I started stumbling over my words; sorry, I’ll try not to make another conversation mistake.”

People usually either think that’s hilarious or they just look at me like I’m crazy. I’m OK with both.

6. Forget About It

Regardless of what happens during social interactions, forget about the “bad” stuff.

It’s too easy to beat yourself up over something you said or didn’t say, or something you said awkwardly. Awkward moments are just that: moments. They beg to be forgotten by their very nature. You know how easy it is to forget positive moments…try forgetting the negative moments to save room for more positive moments.

I can assure you the other person has already forgot about whatever blunder you made, because they’re too busy thinking about everything they said. That’s typical. We think everyone is watching our every move, but in reality, people tend to think mostly about themselves.

The underlying point in all of this is to just calm down. Things happen. Awkward moments happen. Verbal mistakes happen. To everyone. Don’t worry about it, just go out there, meet new people and have fun with it.

Life is too short to avoid social situations. Start being more social right now.

How do you handle social situations? Do you get nervous? Share below!