As humans, we all experience some sort of social anxiety at one time or another. While we may not want to admit it, we care about what others think of us. In Olga Khazan’s book, Weird – The power of being an outsider in an insider world, she explores why society craves conformity, and how weirdness really works. She also offers some counterintuitive tips and tricks to help navigate our weirdness, as well as how to embrace it to become more creative, adaptable, and successful.
In my executive coaching practice, many of my clients have concerns about not feeling accepted. They think others view them as different or weird, relative to the norm. People want to be liked and have a sense of belonging, which leads to concerns about others’ perceptions.
Am I smart enough?
Do I come up with creative solutions?
Did I blow that last presentation?
And before the current at-home work environment; Will I get invited to go to lunch or happy hour?
In my experience, I’ve come to realize that we are all more a bit more self-centered than we’d like to admit. What I mean by that is, others are NOT thinking about us nearly as much as we believe they are. Everyone is focused on themselves.
One chapter in Olga’s book addresses this “cognitive distortion,” which shows up as over-thinking a situation, making assumptions, and jumping to conclusions about what others think about us.
For example, when you don’t get an invite to join in a brainstorming session, you think, they don’t consider me creative or smart. Instead, consider another more realistic thought. Maybe I wasn’t invited to the brainstorming session because I’m new to the team, or they don’t know about my previous work experience, or they wanted to include people outside the department.
Or perhaps you sent an urgent message to a teammate, and you don’t receive a response; that must mean they don’t like me or respect me. Perhaps that person was busy after returning from vacation or had another emergency they had to address.
This type of internal talk is anxiety-inducing.
The next time it happens, try using the 3 Cs:
- Catch the thought that’s making you anxious
- Check the thought, by asking yourself, what else could be true?
- Change the thought to something more accurate, which is likely to be something less anxiety-inducing
It may even be helpful to post a note you can regularly see as a reminder: What else could be going on? Or, What other possible reasons might exist that explain another person’s behavior?
The key is not to take it personally. Focus on the situation.
It’s wise to consider how you may have contributed to the situation, but don’t just make it about you. You never know what else may be going on in the other person’s world.
Seek to understand, ask for forgiveness, if warranted, and be forgiving of others…and yourself.
Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft or connect via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.