8 Ways To 'Read The Room' When You're Feeling Socially Awkward

The most important skill for charismatic people.

workers interacting getty

Some people "read the room" easily, while some don’t. One thing that the most charismatic, compelling people have in common is their ability to read a room, but it's a skill that often requires honing.

This skill gives them the ability to sense what people need in any social situation, so they know how to interact and put people at ease.

Now, with the extra layer of needing to interpret others virtually sometimes, it can be even more nuanced than ever. You might even start feeling awkward.


As a world, we're reaching a social crisis. Stress, loneliness, uncertainty, and political divide are just some of the recent demands influencing our ability to read the room.

You may have been good at reading the room before, but now, it's difficult. In addition, there are also self-regulation issues around being a good co-worker.

In this new emotionally-charged climate, you need to take perspective more than ever.

RELATED: How To Be More Social In 10 Steps (Even If You're An Introvert)

What does it mean to "read the room"?

When you read the room, you scan the room to interpret energy, facial expressions, and context.


What's going on in the room, lives of people, and the world as a whole?

This works both virtually and in person. The ability to effectively read the room allows you to better adapt to varied situations, read non-verbal cues, and better tailor your message.

Spy on Your Surroundings

Exercise: Go on "field trips." Visit stores, coffee shops, etc., and ask yourself, "Who's 'in charge and giving out orders'? Who is 'grumpy'?"

Even with masks on, you can see eyes and hear dialogue and tone of voice.

What are the elements involved when you read the room? Here are the 8 steps to do it.

1. Be a social spy.

Many people are not great social observers and have difficulty reading the room. What more is that stress — which most people wrestle with — makes you less likely to connect and observe.


If you're hesitant, you worry that you need to engage more.

For adults with ADHD, this may translate into barging in and "doing" rather than hanging back and observing. If you're struggling, being a social spy is one of the best ways to get started.

As a social spy, you can discreetly observe, hold back, and take an inventory of the group or situation’s mood, tone, members, energy, etc.

2. Know your audience.

Who is your audience? Tailor your message to your audience.

When approaching a group — in-person or virtually — ask yourself, "Who is my audience? What info am I giving? How will it be received?" 

Recognize that messages don't always come across literally. When you give feedback and instructions, you may assume that others understand what you're conveying.


But if the recipient doesn’t understand your message, they will consider it vague and will require "more" information and context.

Use your social spy skills to "spy" — pause, read between the lines, and decode their requests. Use this intel to paint a clearer picture of what you're saying because they can’t read the subtext.

3. Perspective-taking.

Considering others' beliefs, values, and behaviors and stepping into their shoes gives you social data to better qualify their perspective.

Perspective-taking is even more important when there are limited to no interpersonal interactions.

How do you do this?

Practice by doing an inventory on a co-worker you know well and try to predict their reactions. Another opportunity is to pause and interpret the energy before or after a meeting.


RELATED: What Social Anxiety Feels Like — How To Live (And Deal) With Social Phobia

4. Read the mood.

Mood is subtle. It's a vibe. Mood is made up of facial expressions, body language, and unspoken messages.

You try to read the mood to identify the emotional state of another person. Who are they? What messages are they conveying at that moment using their body language, tone of voice and word choices?

Exercise: Pick two co-workers to try to identify what they do with body and their voices while experiencing different moods. If you're trying to read an obtuse person, identify how they act with body and voice in multiple situations.  

For example, if they're now quiet, yet rarely are, look for patterns and notice their mood. Could they be feeling down because they are sick or distracted?


Make your mission for the next interaction to just notice: pace of language (hurried?), tone (stressed?) and if they're asking more questions or speaking more slowly than usual (apprehensive)?

Do this habitually and scan everyone in your circle to create a mental playbook.

5. Get context.

Context is the situation, mood, and circumstances. Pause, scan, and spy so you can hear and discern better.

Ask yourself, "Where is this happening, in a formal or informal location? Who is there? What are they up to? What are they experiencing?"

Use this information to adjust your message. Reading context is more difficult in zoom, but certainly possible with practice.


6. Show empathy.

You can’t possibly know everything about your co-workers, but try to operate with an understanding that they are "probably" stressed and dealing with uncertainty.

Give off the feeling that you "get it."

Exercise: Roleplay entering different situations and decoding what's going on.


7.  Check your written communication.

Emails, texts, and social messaging can be interpreted differently than what you intended. With written dialogue, especially ones that are sensitive or if you don’t know the person well, wait an extra night before hitting "send."

Step into the shoes of the other person. Do you really want to send a sales-y email when things are going on in this person’s family, life, or at work?

"Dashing off" messages is not a good plan. Instead, consider history and perhaps rephrase to telegraph what you truly mean to say.

8. Practice

Assign yourself a series of activities and then practice one at a time. Pick one mission only. You will gain better clarity if you work in segments or pieces rather than working on everything at once.


Exercise: Practice hanging back and interpreting what is happening in a zoom meeting. Leave your camera on and interpret body language.

Life changing skills take time, but are oh, so worth it! Imagine one year from now how delighted you will be that you didn’t quit. Practice these steps and you will do better in life.

RELATED: 7 Social Skills The Most Charismatic People Have Perfected

Caroline Maguire, M.Ed., ACCG, PCC founded and facilitates a comprehensive SEL training methodology (#ConnectionMatters) for adults, parents, clinicians, and academic professionals on how to develop critical social, emotional, and behavioral skills, in themselves and in others. For more information, visit her website.