How To Get Past A Reputation For Being Weird Or Awkward
Some people who struggle socially have built up a reputation for being "weird", "awkward", or "annoying". (Words like "weird" have both good and bad connotations, but it's safe to say in this case they're being used in the negative sense.) They may not care how they're seen by everyone, and might just be biding their time until they can move out of town. Or they could want to turn everyone's opinion around. If that's the case, here are some thoughts on how to possibly do that:
Sometimes you can adjust your reputation fairly easily
It's hard to say how it will go for any one person, but the good news is sometimes the whole reputation repair operation is smooth and painless. Someone has a sense they're not seen in the best light, but it's mainly in their head. Sure, if you asked them their peers they might say, "Yep, he is kind of odd" or, "She can be irritating", but nobody thinks of them that much or is very attached to their opinion. If that person shows they've changed, everyone shrugs and thinks, "Oh okay, I guess they're different now." They may even be rooting for them to grow out of their awkward phase.
At others times your reputation can take longer to shift
On the other hand, there are cases when someone's reputation is much more established, like they live in a small town where everyone has thought they were strange since elementary school. They may make real changes, but the world still sees them as being the same as they always were. You have to be prepared for that possibility too. Here are some things that can get in the way:
- If you're younger, like in high school, many of your classmates may simply be too immature to see or start treating you differently even if you do change.
- Some groups are just too small minded or bigoted to change their minds about certain people. Like they may never accept artsy, alternative types, regardless of how much someone in that group tries to be friendly, approachable, and palatable to the mainstream.
- If people gain something from your bad reputation, like having a punching bag to pick on, they may resist accepting you've changed, because they don't want to lose the benefits.
- Humans have built-in mental biases that can make it hard for them to notice someone has changed - For example, they'll tend to disregard new information that contracts their previously formed view of you (more on all that here).
- If people do notice you've changed, it can take a while. You can ultimately succeed, but it may be months or years before everyone sees you differently.
- If you were rude or irritating to people in the past, even if they realize you've changed, they may still not ever want to be friends with you.
There's also the question of how much you'd want to try to change how you're seen
If the things that got you a reputation for being "weird" or "awkward" are an important part of your personality, interests, or identity, you may not even want to change in the first place. You shouldn't automatically have to just because the masses don't approve. However, you may be able to make some adjustments, so you can hold onto the personally meaningful parts of being "weird", but drop some unnecessary bits that rub people the wrong way.
Ways to change your reputation
With your expectations at a realistic level, and assuming your peers' view of you is pretty entrenched, here's what you can do:
Maybe talk to some trusted people and get more info about why exactly you have your reputation
You might have a clear idea of why you're seen the way you are, and what you need to do to correct it. However, you may be operating on a vague sense of things. For example, if you're seen as "weird" in the bad sense of the word, you may not know exactly what it is you're doing that everyone finds off putting.
If you ask someone they may give you more clarity about how exactly you could make some tweaks, e.g., "No one cares that you wear quirky clothes or like painting. It's that when people try to talk to you, you don't make eye contact, say a few odd, cryptic things, then walk away." Maybe you'll hear that and realize, "Oh, I act that way because I get nervous, and can only manage to stammer out a few half-sentences before the urge to bail gets too strong. Okay, I'll try to find ways to stay calmer and be more articulate when I feel put on the spot."
Know you'll likely have to genuinely change a fair amount
Remember this is about how your peers at large perceive you, not achieving subtle improvements that make a big difference in your day to day life, but which no one else sees. You've got to change enough that other people really notice how different you are.
That can be easier said than done. If you're seen as odd or awkward because you're shy, socially inexperienced, and immature for your age, those aren't things you can just fix in a week. You don't have to metamorphosize into the most charismatic person in existence, but you've got to make a decent sized shift. It may take a lot of work to overcome these issues enough that people start seeing you in a new light. Depending on your circumstances, you may decide the effort isn't worth it. Like if you're in your last year of high school, you may not have enough time to change before you have to leave for college anyway.
Show you're self-aware about how you used to act
Say things to let people know you get how you used to come across, but want to put that behind you. When it's appropriate, make a casual reference to how you used to, for example, have a bad habit of needlessly correcting people. Shake your head as you talk about how you realize before you didn't know when to drop a joke that wasn't working. Be frank about how you were much more shy in the past and had no idea how to make conversation with anyone.
Tell some people you want to turn your reputation around
Let them know in a matter of fact way. Don't do it with any kind of needy or approval seeking energy. Talk about it like it's a project you realize you need to take on, because you accept you haven't come across in the best light in the past. When you put it like that people may support your plan, and be mentally prepped to see any changes you end up making.
Don't try to make a bunch of grand gestures to change your reputation overnight
That can seem desperate or needy. Take it slow and steady. Just live your life as the new you and let people gradually realize you're behaving differently.
Sincerely apologize to people if your past behavior was truly rude, obnoxious, or insensitive
I won't go into a ton of detail here about what a proper apology involves, but you can find that info elsewhere easily enough. It's not that saying sorry will instantly turn someone's opinion around, but it shows you're aware of what you did wrong and are making a sincere attempt to turn over a new leaf. I know it can feel really uncomfortable to give some types of apologies, but do what you can.
Explain your past behavior
This isn't about making excuses, or expecting everyone to switch their opinion on a dime. Sometimes in the context of doing other things to change your reputation, if you give a reasonable explanation for why you acted the way you did, it can help advance your cause a bit. For example, you could say things like:
- "I know I came off as annoying in the 9th grade. I thought I was being tough and edgy."
- "I wasn't trying to seem odd. I just didn't have as much social experience back then. I didn't know any better."
- "I was grouchy when I started this job because I was going through a lot of stress at home. I'm not trying to make an excuse, but just give some context."
- "I acted like that because I was scared of getting rejected, and figured I may as well push everyone away first and at least have some sense of control over it all."
- "I didn't mean to seem so prickly around you and your friends last year. I grew up being told it was good to be against the mainstream popular kids, so I thought I was being noble and independent by acting aloof around everyone."
For the most part you can drop these little explanations into your conversations when a natural time to do it comes up, but for some people it may make sense to purposely bring up some of these things.
If some of the things you used to do are cringey and embarrassing, be able to laugh at yourself about it
Show you're a good sport and don't take yourself too seriously. However, don't be excessively self-deprecating, or let douchey people endlessly crap on you for your old mistakes.
It helps to make noticeable changes to your appearance
For example, if everyone sees you as dorky and strange you could get some nice clothes, a new haircut, and improve your posture. Yeah, that sounds horribly superficial, but people's minds are quicker to latch onto observable, dramatic shifts like this. Of course, it's your call whether you think doing that kind of thing is worth it. It can help, but it's not 100% necessary.