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Why can’t I socialize normally?

For many people, socializing and making small talk can feel awkward or uncomfortable. You may dread going to parties or networking events because you don’t know what to say or how to connect with others. Or maybe you freeze up in group conversations because you feel anxious about saying the wrong thing. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. An estimated 15 million American adults have social anxiety disorder, which can make social interactions extremely challenging.[1] But even if you don’t have social anxiety, you may sometimes wish your social skills came more naturally.

Social skills are learned behaviors that allow us to interact positively with others. Just like any skill, social skills can be improved with practice and effort. However, there are several common reasons why some people struggle more than others when it comes to socializing:

Lack of confidence

Many people feel insecure in social settings, which holds them back from fully engaging. Low self-esteem or negative self-talk makes it hard to open up. You may worry about being judged or sounding dumb, so you stay quiet instead. Building genuine confidence starts with identifying and challenging unhelpful thoughts. Remind yourself that you have interesting perspectives to share. Most people are focused more on themselves than critically judging you.

Poor communication skills

Good verbal and nonverbal communication skills help conversations flow smoothly. Those who lack these skills may stumble over what to say or how to listen attentively. Communication skills can improve through mindfulness, actively listening to others, asking questions, and practicing public speaking. Therapists can also help identify problem areas.

Difficulty reading social cues

Socializing requires picking up on subtle cues like facial expressions, body language, and tones of voice. Some neurodiverse conditions like autism make reading these cues more difficult. Not recognizing sarcasm, humor, or when someone is bored or offended can hinder social success. Learning common expressions and asking clarifying questions can help.

Discomfort with small talk

Chit-chat about innocuous topics like the weather helps initiate conversations at social gatherings. However, some find small talk pointless or draining. With practice, you can become more comfortable with surface-level social pleasantries while also steering conversations to more substantial subjects. Having a few standard questions and stories can make small talk feel less hollow.

Feeling different from others

When your interests, lifestyles, values, or personalities differ significantly from those around you, it can be hard to find common ground. You may avoid social situations altogether if you assume you won’t fit in. However, focusing on learning about others, asking questions, and looking for shared experiences helps bridge gaps.

Social anxiety

Social anxiety disorder involves an intense fear of social situations and interactions. While everyone feels awkward or nervous at times, social anxiety causes enough distress to interfere with daily life. Symptoms include racing heart, upset stomach, excessive worrying, and avoiding social gatherings. Counseling and medication can help manage this condition.


Past traumas like abuse, bullying, grief, or isolation can make it hard to trust others or feel safe socially. Painful memories or triggers may resurface in crowds. Working through trauma in counseling allows social skills to improve. Support groups can also provide understanding people to practice with.

High sensitivity

Being highly sensitive means you process stimuli deeply. Noisy, chaotic gatherings can feel overwhelming. You may pick up on subtleties and think deeply about interactions. This thoughtful orientation requires more down time after socializing but is not a flaw. Managing overstimulation by scheduling breaks and finding like-minded friends can help.


Introverts feel drained by excessive social stimulation. They prefer fewer deeper interactions. Pushing themselves to network for hours causes fatigue and moodiness. Introverts thrive when they balance quiet time with quality social connections versus quantity. Don’t judge yourself for needing to recharge.


Being distracted, buried in your phone, or thinking about other things during conversations makes it hard to connect. Being fully present requires focusing your attention outward. Put devices away, make eye contact, and ask engaged questions. Listen rather than just waiting to talk.

How to Improve Your Social Skills

The good news is social skills can be improved through concerted effort. Here are some ways to practice and develop greater social comfort and competence:

Observe how others socialize

Pay attention to how socially adept people carry on conversations and relate to others. Notice their body language, tone, facial expressions, listening skills, questions, and responses. You can model their behavior, especially when making small talk. Just don’t mimic them exactly. Use their examples to develop a style authentic to you.

Learn the basics of etiquette

Understanding standard rules of politeness helps avoid awkward moments. Things like how to tactfully end conversations, proper introductions and handshakes, graciously accepting compliments, writing thank you notes, and not committing common faux pas go a long way. Classes or books on etiquette provide guidelines.

Practice active listening

Improve your conversational skills by focusing fully on the speaker. Maintain eye contact, limit distractions, ask relevant questions, reflect what you hear them say, and avoid interrupting. They should feel heard and understood. Good listening builds rapport quickly.

Find common interests

Shared interests give you something enjoyable to discuss, bond over, or do together. To connect with acquaintances, look for common ground by asking about their hobbies, work, family, culture, sports team, favorite books/movies, travel experience, etc. Find topics that light both you and them up.

Get out of your comfort zone

Avoiding feared social situations prevents you from learning how manageable they really are. By slowly facing fears, you build confidence and coping skills. Say yes to invitations that make you slightly uncomfortable, chat with strangers at low-stakes events, or set small social goals like making eye contact.

Role play with trusted friends

Practice scenarios can help polish rusty social skills. Ask patient friends to do mock interviews, first dates, or cocktail party conversations with you. Pay attention to their constructive feedback. Role playing reduces anxiety before the real thing.

Join special interest groups

It’s easier to socialize around shared passions. Join clubs related to your hobbies, volunteer for causes you care about, or take classes to meet like-minded people. The activities give you built-in subjects to talk about. You already have at least one thing in common.

See a therapist

For severe social challenges, counseling provides tailored guidance to improve communication, address fears, work through trauma, manage anxiety, increase confidence, read cues, role play situations, and more. Therapists hold you accountable for practicing between sessions.

Try social skills classes or groups

Look for classes, workshops, meetups, and support groups focused specifically on improving social abilities. These allow structured opportunities to practice interacting with lower stakes. Learning alongside others struggling socially reduces embarrassment.

Start slowly online

Anonymity online lowers social pressure, making it easier to connect. Start commenting on forums related to your interests. Online friends can become real-life friends. Just ensure proper cyber safety. Video calling also teaches facial expressions and tones.

Be genuinely curious about people

Asking thoughtful questions and listening attentively shows caring. Follow their lead to topics they enjoy. Pay more attention to learning who they are versus worrying about impressing them. Curiosity builds bonds because people like being heard.

Relax and don’t overthink it

Let conversations flow naturally rather than analyzing everything you say. Being fully present and attuned to the moment reduces nervousness. Breathe deeply to manage anxiety. Remember people are not critiquing your every word. They simply want pleasant interactions.

Smile and make eye contact

Warm body language puts people at ease and makes you appear approachable. Smile sincerely at those around you. Make comfortable eye contact while listening and speaking. Others will reciprocate your openness.

Give people genuine compliments

Sincere compliments build confidence and rapport. Notice positive traits or talents and meaningfully point them out. For example, “You have such an awesome sense of humor,” or “That drawing you did was amazing. You’re very talented.” Just avoid flattery that seems insincere.

Manage expectations

Social success rarely means being liked by everyone or having perfect interactions. Focus on incremental improvements and enjoying socializing rather than demanding perfection. Maintain realistic expectations of yourself and others. Patience and compassion are key.


Improving social abilities requires courage, discomfort, and practice. However, continually building skills leads to greater confidence, meaningful connections, and a sense of belonging. Be patient and kind with yourself through the process. Our common human needs for interaction and friendship mean that deep down, most people long to welcome and accept you. With time and effort, socializing can become more enjoyable than intimidating.

Tip How it Helps
Observe socially adept people Gives examples to model
Learn basic etiquette Avoids awkwardness
Practice active listening Builds rapport
Find common interests Gives things to bond over
Get out of your comfort zone Builds confidence
Role play scenarios Polishes rusty skills
Join special interest groups Easier to interact around shared passions
See a therapist Professional guidance to improve specific challenges
Take social skills classes/groups Structured practice in supportive environments
Start slowly online Lowers social pressure
Be genuinely curious Shows caring and builds bonds
Relax and don’t overthink Reduces nervousness
Smile and make eye contact Appears warm and approachable
Give sincere compliments Builds confidence and rapport
Manage expectations Avoids perfectionism