Notice and reward: Strategic CBT steps to handle awkward social situations.

One of the primary difficulties that creates social anxiety in new situations or interpersonal scenarios in everyday life is the overlooking of simple human positive  tendencies to engage. Have you ever been in a new social environment? Have you ever felt that you wished the world would swallow you up when the conversation goes dead? Have you ever felt dread at having to relate to new people in social gatherings? Welcome to the human race, you are not alone! Follow these simple CBT steps to not just conquering and tolerating the inevitable anxiety that you feel, but learn to be strategic and play the game of social interaction to build confidence and new friendships.

  • Put yourself in another’s shoes. Ask yourself always ” What would my friend, my partner, someone I admire look out for in a similar social situation?”

  •            Ask yourself  from the perspective on another ” How would John/Mary/My boss/ My friend know if                 someone wanted to be friendly and be interested in getting to know me?  Expect your anxiety to be high,
  •           The GOAL is NOT to eliminate the anxiety, as many of my clients aim for.
  •           The GOAL is to TOLERATE the anxiety and FOCUS on the positive social behaviours that we miss.

 What then do we look out for?

As I often explain to my clients who have these social anxieties be your own detective, or if we remember the famous TV detective Colombo we will remember that CBT is all about ‘being your own therapist”, or giving yourself the interesting undercover task of locating these hidden non-verbal clues that other people would be interested in getting to know us. Have a glance at the following and see if these behaviours are evident the next time you find yourself in the awkward social quagmire of getting to know others.

  1. Eye-contact- brief, intermittent, sustained.
  2. Smiling, grimaces, happy facial features.
  3. Standing next to you in a crowded room, in your vicinity.
  4. Listening to what you are saying , nodding, leaning forward, and eye contact.
  5. Asking you questions, follow up questions of interest on something that you are sharing.
  6. Subtle compliments given to you, and others redirecting the conversation to include you.


If you have noticed these and are tolerating the uncomfortable anxiety situations you are more than likely three quarters the way there to successfully managing the anxiety and altering the quality of how you relate to others. The final goal involves REWARDING the positive social behaviours that all to often are overlooked in social situations leading to a withdrawal and subsequent extinction of social relating from others. Have a look at the following menu of rewarding positive behaviours and check in with yourself if these could be possible game changers for you in building meaningful friendships with people and developing closeness.

  • Smiling and acting naturally EVEN IF YOU DONT FEEL LIKE IT!- Project expression of being prosocial
  • Listening to others EVEN IF the topic is boring or uninteresting. You are projecting through your body language that you are respecting the person, even if the topic is not something that will ever be interested in.
  • Have at least 3 questions that you can ask someone. Simple ones such as what football team they support? What they do for a living? How was their weekend? Not only does this convey interest but it facilitates prolonged conversation where you can be on the lookout for similar interest from others when they redirect the conversation back to something that you are interested in.
  • Self -disclose something about yourself. This comes when you have had a fairly good vibe that all of the above has proceeded nicely. This is about timing. Remember! If someone doesen’t react well to your self disclosure this is out of your control. As long as you strategically focus on these tips then you build a file on someone in your head. What do I mean by this? If you observe that someone generally does not hold the ball conversationally or does not follow up on self disclosures made by yourself or even b others than you can strategically build a file on this person that maybe you have gone as far as you can and save your social skills for someone else.

So next time you find yourself in this social scenario and are contemplating avoiding or passing up on it


See this as an opportunity to refine your detective skills to playing the game to win. YOU CANNOT LOSE from this! Give it a go and build your confidence, build your strategy and before your know it, you will develop meaningful purposeful friendships with people.

Happy searching!

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