There are often times in our lives when we risk letting our social skills get rusty.
I’m not just talking about social isolation during pandemics. I’m also talking about “hermiting” in the deep of winter, when we like to hole up in our houses and wait it out for spring, or when we seek solitude in a remote location to write our next novel.
As we’ve discussed on this channel, strategic social distancing can have its benefits. It offers space for creativity and “deep work” (to borrow a term from the professor and author Cal Newport).
But don’t let that period of social distancing become an excuse to let your social skills atrophy. While it’s perfectly fine to dial down the social interaction level for a period of time, you should still seek out opportunities to keep your social skills sharp.
Putting in the effort to stay on top of your social skills game will ensure a smooth transition back into society when your period of distancing ends, and it will also supply your brain with some healthy social stimulation, which even the most determined hermit benefits from.
Today I’m going to share some strategies to keep your social skills honed during periods of social distancing. These are strategies that you can practice with others in your close proximity, or if you are going full-on recluse, can be performed virtually.
Ok, now onto the strategies for stretching those social skills muscles:
(1) Practice Empathetic Listening
Too often, in our world of smartphones and constant distractions, when we listen to someone speaking to us, we do so only partially. We’re trained to multi-task.
I’m now going to challenge you to do the exact opposite.
The next time someone says something to you, listen to what they are saying with all your might. Employ your full sensory faculties.
Listen without judgment or forming an opinion or composing a pithy response or quipping something clever. Allow for there to be pauses and silence because that will allow the other person to continue speaking.
Only once they have finished saying what they planned to say should you respond.
Make sure your response demonstrates that you truly listened. You don’t have to agree with them if you don’t feel like it, but you do need to demonstrate that you understand why they feel the way they feel. If you don’t understand their position, encourage them to share more. Show that you care.
The idea here is to practice active and empathetic listening, so let the other person do the driving. We have a video about active listening and empathetic listening so check those out for some more information.
(2) Make Eye Contact
The next time you speak with someone, make a concerted effort to look them in the eye. I’m not talking about a furtive, millisecond glance. I’m talking about holding their gaze for a few full seconds. Prove that it is deliberate.
This kind of eye contact demonstrates that you care about what they are saying and that you respect them enough to give them your full attention.
If you are relying on video chat, this is a bit tricky, because to look someone in the eye on video chat, you actually need to look into the camera lens. But imagine the lens is an eyeball, and the effort of looking into it will achieve the same purpose because you are doing it deliberately.
You’d be surprised how uncomfortable eye contact can be. It feels much safer to look at our phones or anywhere but someone’s eye. This is particularly the case after extended periods of social distancing.
That’s why this is an important skill to keep practicing.
(3) Compose Two Emails
Written communication is a form of social interaction, and you don’t want that going dull either.
So let’s write a couple emails:
Make the first email professional or work-related. It can be about exploring a new business opportunity or checking in on an existing client. The point here is to use appropriately professional language and a more formal structure. We have an entire guideline for how to email like a boss, check out this video here.
The second email should be addressed to a friend or family member. Make it warm and friendly. The goal here is to practice your empathetic writing. Show some emotion. Make your personality shine through in it. Put a smile on the recipient’s face.
It’s important to do both types of emails because each requires a slightly different style of communicating, and you’ll want to exercise both of those muscles.
(4) Get into a Tiff and Resolve it
This might sound funny, but I want you to get into a bit of an argument with someone.
Nothing out of control, just take a position that you know the other person will disagree with. Raise the tempo just a bit above average.
Once you’ve done that, it’s time to bring it back down. Demonstrate that you see the other person’s point of view, find a middle ground, and settle the dispute.
The process of managing conflict forces you to use a wide range of important social skills, all of which you’ll want to keep sharp during your social distancing. Rehearsing the conflict management routine every now and then will allow you to keep the machine well oiled.
If you’d like a few tips on that process, check out our strategies for resolving conflict here.
So there you have it: four easily implementable strategies for maintaining your social skills fitness levels.
Let’s quickly recap:
- Practice listening to someone with all your senses
- Lock onto the eyes and hold the gaze
- Send a mix of professional and personal written correspondence
- Get into a squabble and resolve it
The reality is that you probably have a lot of experience with all of these activities. But you might be surprised at how quickly these abilities gather dust when you go through periods of social distancing.
So run through the list and do them with more focus and deliberation than you might otherwise. These strategies will give the social part of your brain some healthy stimulation and help you ease back into a more active social routine when you’re ready for it.
closing sign off
So now that I've shared our thoughts, I’d love to hear your own ideas for maintaining your social skills while social distancing. What are some other things you can think of? If you haven’t yet, what steps are you going to take to keep up your social skills?
Share that with me and the Explearning community in the comments below.
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Email this video to a friend or coworker who also wants to supercharge their social skills.
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With that, have an awesome week, Explearners.
Thank you so much for joining me and I’ll see you next time for your next Explearning lesson.
Happy Explearning ⚡