Navigating Awkwardness At In Person Meetings

leadership transition Sep 13, 2022

- By Sophie Pinkoski

As the world continues to live with the ongoing pandemic many people have started to return to in person meetings again. 

While the ability to meet in person again is a relief, it’s certainly not without its challenges. 

Isolated populations often find it difficult to re-adjust to social situations. Astronauts, soldiers, and prisoners all experience an adjustment period where they must relearn how to behave around other people. A similar phenomenon is likely happening as we come out of our own isolation due to the prolonged pandemic. Milestones like getting on a plane for the first time since before the pandemic may be nerve-wracking. Something as simple as meeting with coworkers can cause anxiety, and for those who have never experienced it before, it can seem overwhelming. 

Your first ventures out to an in person event may lead to some uncomfortable interactions.

Here are some common awkward things you may experience while getting used to socializing with your colleagues again: 

Handshakes – Handshakes are well ingrained on us all as a polite and respectful way to greet someone in a professional setting. But what do you do when you’ve been avoiding physical contact for so long? Freezing up and hesitating as you fumble through the correct replacement protocol might be one of your first hurdles when meeting with someone in person.

Don’t be afraid to simply ask if they’re comfortable with shaking hands before attempting to do the song and dance of bumping elbows. It's okay just to look them in the eye and say hello.

Masks – The choice to wear masks in public is very personal. The choice to wear a mask may be related to the individual's health, the needs of their home or family, or their preference.

Everyone’s comfort level about wearing a mask is going to be different.

Those who choose to mask should be respected in their decision, even when it’s hard to understand what they’re saying, or they appear different than others in the room. Don’t pressure them to take it off during conversations, rather, encourage them to speak more clearly instead. Consider it as someone who wears glasses. That individual may feel it is a need rather than a choice and that should be respected. 

Not recognizing people you’ve only met virtually – So many people we’ve met over the years we’ve only ever interacted with online. For this reason, we’ve only seen them from the shoulders up. This gives us no concept of how tall they are or what their physical presence is like.

It’s completely possible to not recognize them when meeting for the first time in person. Don’t be too alarmed if a what may feel like a complete stranger addresses you by name.

You’ll soon be able to put an image to a name! 

Dressing up – Virtual meetings have led to a shift toward more comfortable, casual attire. When people only see you from the chest up, you can get away with wearing sweatpants with your dress shirts. A return to in-person gatherings means having to think harder about your daily wardrobe choices than just your favourite sweats. People often express themselves through their clothing choices and long-term isolation has stripped that away. Now, when none of us are the same people we were before the pandemic, how do we accurately present our new identity in what we wear? 

The pandemic has been a trying experience for us all, and isolation has undoubtedly left us a little rusty when it comes to social interaction. It’s common to feel self-conscious in unfamiliar situations such as these, but with us all in the same boat, everyone else feels it too.

For this reason, it’s best to face social gatherings with empathy and compassion.

Don’t be afraid to laugh about it; facing these awkward new interactions with a sense of humour will help make it a little easier each time. 


Further Reading: 

How to Cope With Social Awkwardness After Covid-19, Very Well Mind 

It’s Not Just You, We’re All Socially Awkward Now, Washington Post 


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