I found Awkward: The Science of Why We’re Socially Awkward and Why That’s Awesome by Ty Tashiro a fascinating book. The book helped me to understand anxiety with social environments. Below is an excerpt:
The Devil Is in the Details
John Gottman of the University of Washington and his colleagues have conducted observational studies of positive and negative behaviors with married couples and grade-school children for decades. The focus of many relationship scientists has been on negative behaviors such as resentment or withdrawing from conflict, but the trick to understanding interpersonal behavior is about the ratio of negative to positive behaviors. It turns out that positive behaviors can be as small as telling someone he looks handsome, attentively listening to a friend’s small triumph of the day, or surprising a coworker with her favorite cupcakes.
Gottman has found that people keep an informal count of behaviors. He calls this ratio of positive to negative behaviors an emotional bank account. To stay in good standing with others, people need to keep a balance of about four or five positive behaviors to every one negative behavior. Imagine that you do four good things during an interaction with a friend: give an enthusiastic greeting, compliment his outfit, share some french fries, and respond empathically to a concern. Then you inadvertently insult this friend by forgetting that today is his birthday. You would probably come out of this interaction with $0.00 in your emotional bank account with him, which is not bad considering that you could have left the interaction in the red had you not been so nice at the start of the interaction. It’s good to think about leaving interactions without a negative balance because people’s emotional bank accounts charge interest.
Gottman finds that negative balances are not wiped from other people’s minds at the end of the day, but instead carry over to your next interaction. This is bad news if you end the day in the red with someone, but good news if you end the day with money in the bank. When people leave interactions with a negative balance, it has a way of building corrosive resentment in others’ minds, which essentially adds interest to their emotional debt. The good news is that leaving interactions with a positive balance tends to build trust, which is like gaining interest on your deposit.
One strategy is to avoid mistakes, but a focus on trying not to make a mistake has a way of creating persistent anxiety, which is both unpleasant and unhelpful. The best way to leverage the concept of the emotional bank account is to commit to making small deposits of positive behaviors on a consistent basis. Instead of viewing the dozens of social situations and hundreds of cues that one encounters every day as an opportunity for failure, the mindset shifts to capitalizing on routine situations by contributing a little more than expected. Sometimes others view heroic efforts as a disproportionately large contribution, but typically positive efforts both big and small have about the same effect.
When you become the kind of person who first thinks about how to help people rather than how to get something from people, it builds a positive balance in your emotional bank account with others. Over time, that positive balance begins to build trust and eventually faith that you are a good-natured person. The key is to be subtle about your contributions. Most people feel tremendous gratitude when their grandparents slip a ten-dollar bill into their birthday card, but if their grandparents slipped a check for $10,000 into their birthday card, it would actually feel awkward for most people. Subtle deposits could be as small as being more specific when you say thank you or letting others go first when a line forms at a buffet. As a supplement to face-to-face deposits, it’s easier than ever to make “mobile deposits” through a kind text the day of someone’s big test or follow-up message after dinner to say “That was fun, thanks for getting together.”
The reality is that awkward people are more likely. to make small withdrawals from their emotional bank accounts with others because they are prone to mishandling minor social expectations. Awkward people may not notice that their large backpack swung into their friend’s head as they turned to sit down on the bus or they may accidentally disclose the surprise birthday party to the birthday boy. These awkward moments are done without premeditation or malice, but they are still negative and even if people do not say anything, their automated mental accounting system deducts a little bit from the emotional bank account.
These unexpected or accidental withdrawals make it imperative that awkward individuals make a concerted effort to maintain a positive balance through consistently making small deposits that move their balance farther to the positive side in others’ minds, It’s like contributing a little bit every month for social insurance.
Awkward individuals should not let their clumsiness with minor social expectations define them. As both awkward and non-awkward people get older, most of them will care less about surface qualities and instead evaluate people on their Willingness to be fair, be kind, and be loyal. So long as good people feel as if you are trying your best to consistently contribute, then they are willing to overlook a little awkwardness. Whether It’s a commitment to a familial relationship, friendship, or romantic relationship, when awkward people make sure that they find a way to contribute to the broader good, it is the best strategy for creating sustainable social capital.