Fears Of Socializing With People Who May Not Like You
Many people with social anxiety or insecurities understandably feel uncomfortable interacting with individuals or groups who probably don't like them. I'm not talking about someone who's clearly a mean-spirited bully. I mean when things are more ambiguous. There's that one co-worker who's standoffish. There's that clique in class who seems more friendly to everyone else. It's always possible their self-doubts are making them see things inaccurately, but they're reasonably sure a certain person or group isn't into them.
Sometimes that knowledge causes them to feel straight up nervous around those people. At other times it creates a sense of hesitation and self-doubt. They may not know why the person or group doesn't like them. They just suspect they've done something awkward or unlikable to put them off. Or they may be 99% confident they know why they're not liked. Either way, they're uneasy in their company.
Below I'll discuss what is and isn't realistic to accomplish with people who may not like you, then I'll go over some ways to feel more comfortable around them.
What's reasonable to accomplish with people who don't like you?
Everyone has their own goals when they believe someone or a group doesn't like them. They might want to win them over and become good friends. They may want their respect or approval. Or they might not care about their acceptance, or even like them much themselves, but they still don't want to feel so on edge around them. Here's what I think are realistic things to shoot for:
- To not feel super uncomfortable around them - Just because someone doesn't like you doesn't mean you have to be really anxious or insecure in their presence. It's natural to always be a tad tense or guarded around someone who's not your fan, but the feeling shouldn't be crippling. I'm sure you can think of some inconsequential people who haven't liked you, but it didn't phase you that they felt that way.
- To be able to make polite small talk - It wouldn't be your first choice to chat with each other, and the exchange may feel a bit fake and hollow, but if you're forced into a situation where you have to speak to each other, you can be cordial and get through it (e.g., if you run into a prickly co-worker in the break room).
- To be able to observe little social niceties - For example, nodding hello to a classmate you pass in an empty hall, or offering a co-worker a pastry in a meeting.
- To be able to hang out in a larger group together - You don't have to directly interact with each other much, but you should feel relaxed enough to throw your own contributions into the bigger conversation.
- To be able to work together professionally - Even if a colleague would never want to be friends, you should still be able to put your differences aside and complete basic work tasks together.
What things are possible with someone who doesn't like you, but won't happen every time?
On occasion someone may initially be unsure about you, but you'll do something to change their opinion, such as:
- Simply making an effort to get to know them better, to dispel any surface level first impressions they may have formed of you
- Fixing any legitimate conversation mistakes you were making, like interrupting everyone or making too many tasteless, insensitive jokes
- Letting your personality show more, if, justified or not, they're not keen on people who seem too guarded and reserved
- Every so often, having a direct talk and clearing the air - "I gotta ask, did I do something to offend you? I feel like we haven't even spoken that much, but I get a sense you're annoyed whenever I'm around."
Of course, we can never get everyone to like us. If you think about it, we don't even want everyone to like us. It can be a sign you're doing something right if a truly toxic, hateful person is put off by you. If you do something like one of the points above you might achieve the following:
- Change their opinion of you from negative to neutral - They may never fully warm up to you or want to be friends, but if you work at it you may be able to reverse their unfavorable stance (e.g., they originally thought you were snobby, but now realize you just take a while to open up and can give the wrong impression at first).
- To win their respect, if nothing else - A co-worker may dislike you for your personality, and also because they think you're not good at your job. You may get to a spot where they have to admit you know what you're doing, even if they don't want to be buddies. Or maybe not. Their view of you as a person may keep them from ever accepting you're a capable worker.
- Get them to actually like you - If someone currently doesn't seem to like you, you can never guarantee you'll totally turn their opinion around. You're setting yourself up for disappointment if that's your goal. However, sometimes it does happen. People can initially get the wrong idea about each other, but once they spend more time together they realize they have a lot in common.
- Get something you want from them - They may not see you as someone they want to have a drink with, but they may change their view enough to grant you access to something you're after. For example, they may start inviting you to their group events.
Ways to become more comfortable around people who probably dislike you
Okay, so you know what's realistic to aim for, but how can you practically feel better around them? Here are a few guidelines, aside from more general suggestions on managing social discomfort, like doing soothing breathing exercises.
I know talking to people who might not like you is difficult, so none of these are things you should expect to master in a week. Cut yourself some slack and let yourself slowly work up to becoming at least somewhat more calm when they're around.
Just knowing what is and isn't possible may bring some sense of relief
You may have assumed that if someone doesn't like you you have to completely win them over. Reading you only have to be able to make some polite small talk may take the pressure off, and help you feel more relaxed around them.
Examine your belief that they don't like you
People with social anxiety and insecurities sometimes see the social world as more hostile and unaccepting than it is. It's possible you've concluded a group or person doesn't like you based on a shaky amount of evidence. For example, did you automatically assume they hate you because they dress vaguely like someone who would've been mean to you in high school?
...But it's also possible they actually don't like you, and they're sending obvious signs, which anyone with a pair of eyes and some common sense would pick up on (e.g., every time you try to talk to them they act blatantly bored and irritated.) The idea behind questioning your assumptions isn't to be blindly positive and try to force yourself to accept a false version of reality. It's to not automatically take your beliefs at face value, and subject them to a bit of scrutiny, especially if you know you have a tendency to see certain situations in a skewed way. When examining your assumptions, maybe you'll easily confirm your initial views were correct. Maybe you'll realize you jumped to some false conclusions about what they think of you. Either is okay. The Belief Questioning process isn't meant to railroad you into a particular answer.
Ask yourself questions like:
- What evidence do I have that they don't like me?
- How solid or reliable is my evidence? Is it based on assumptions or hunches? Do I believe I just know what someone else is thinking? Am I assuming things about them based on how they look, or stereotypes they seem to fit?
- Are there any other explanations for my evidence? (E.g., are there other reasons someone may have yawned or seemed distracted while talking to me?)
- Is there any evidence they do like me, which I may have overlooked? (E.g., that they invited you to have drinks after work one day.)
Another outcome of this exercise may be, "Okay, I can't be sure if they really hate me or not, but I still feel nervous around them." That's alright too. Maybe some of the following suggestions will help.
If you're sure they don't like you, examine your beliefs about the consequences of that
Just because they don't like you, it doesn't mean they hate you intensely, and your life is ruined because of it. Here are a few more things to ask yourself:
- I know they don't like me, but how strongly? Do they despise me? Is it that they don't have much against me, but also don't believe I'm a match for them as a friend?
- Can I handle knowing they don't like me? No one enjoys being disliked, of course, but can I tolerate the fact that they're not my biggest fans? Is the feeling of rejection devastating, or mildly disappointing and discouraging? Can I set aside some time to sit with those uncomfortable emotions and let them run their course?
- How much does of their dislike of me practically affect my life and keep me from my goals? Yes, it's unpleasant to know someone doesn't like me, but can they do anything beyond that? Are they in a position to sabotage my career? Are they just a group I see in the breakroom I can otherwise ignore?
- How mean are they to me? Do they dislike me so much they make an effort to hurt me, or do they just not go out of their way to make conversation if we're all in a big group?
- Do I believe I must get everyone to like me? Why? Is that realistic? Do I like everyone? Would the world end if some people had negative feelings about me?
Decide what you want to be able to do around them, then gradually build up to it
While being realistic about the fact that you may never fully sway their opinion of you, what do you want to be able to do around them? Make small talk? Just be at ease in their presence? Once you've decided, work your way up to it at a manageable pace. If making small talk with them makes you too nervous, try just saying hello at first. Then work up to asking a quick question or two. Then try to have a somewhat longer conversation.
If they don't like you they may not be enthusiastic about chatting, and the interactions may not be that warm or flowing, but the goal is to feel more comfortable around them, not to win them over.