Social misfit, loner or nerd. These are all words that are often used to describe awkward people.
In this context awkward does not mean deliberately difficult, disruptive or aggressive, but describes people who don’t quite fit in or interact socially with their group, peers or colleagues. Indeed, all too many amateur psychologists ascribe people with these character traits as being socially dysfunctional, or being ‘on the spectrum’, or worse, as having Autism or Aspergers.
But US psychologist, author and relationship expert Ty Tashiro argues that such people often have striking talents.
The author of AWKWARD: The Science of Why We’re Socially Awkward and Why That’s Awesome, argues that while such people are less likely to be socially skilled or good communicators they also have what he calls obsessive interests.
However, being socially awkward is not synonymous with being on the Autism spectrum.
Tashiro says socially awkward people are likely to have considerable focus and energy and to deliberately practice something that interests them repeatedly until they achieve mastery of it.
How can this benefit a business?
It is almost a cliché that to achieve mastery in an activity or discipline requires a single-minded focus and hours of practice.
So awkward people can often achieve a high level of expertise in what interests them.
The pace of technological change is being driven by innovation and advances in science so it is easy to see why having some awkward people in a business can be a huge benefit.
With the right level of understanding and support, an awkward person’s skill is a resource that can result in a ground-breaking innovation that could put the business ahead of its rivals.
So, it makes sense to recognise that an awkward member of your team may have hidden depths and to find ways of nurturing their interests and skills for the benefit of the business, its profitability and the security of everyone involved in it. Respecting, understanding and supporting them takes time and effort but the rewards can be stunning.
It is also called “leadership”.