How to Brush Up on Your Social Skills

May 2021
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After a year of quarantine and virtual meetings, how do we relearn to be together in person again? While some feel hopeful about the world slowly reopening, others may feel dread, and new forms of social anxiety will be commonplace, said Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor and director of the Social Interaction Lab at UC Berkeley.

“People are really anxious about being out in restaurants with friends, or about dancing with a big sweaty group of people — or even about sharing a yoga mat,” he told The New York Times. “It’s always good to remember individual differences — there’s a lot of variability. But there will be a lasting societal legacy around intimacy, the noise that comes with returning to school, the complexity of the playground and of work.”

Many have forgotten how to have a conversation or conduct small talk, as they haven’t been around many acquaintances or met new people, missing out on key face-to-face interactions that are important for our social development, according to the Times. Clinical psychologist and Stanford professor Debra Kaysen noted that returning to “civilian life” can be disorienting, surreal and difficult: “Cues that used to be neutral or positive, like being around other people, are now associated with threat.”

Set small, achievable goals. Understand that everyone feels differently and will do things in their own time. Maybe a friend wants to eat inside a restaurant and you don’t. Maybe you are ready to gather as a family but a relative isn’t. Maybe your spouse wants to go on a flight, but you’re not comfortable.

“Accept that certain activities may feel tough for a while,” the article says. And according to Kaysen, recovery doesn’t mean you’ll fully go back to the way you were before. “It’s that you create a new normal, one that’s functional and beautiful — and different.” 

We must reeducate ourselves on social norms like how to hug again, when to compliment someone and how to make eye contact, says the Times. To avoid being overwhelmed, take one step at a time. Here are eight exercises Keltner recommends to strengthen your social muscles and ease back into your community.

1. Share a meal with someone.

2. Tell a joke in person, make eye contact and laugh.

3. Ask someone what they’re listening to or reading.

4. Reach out to a person you’ve lost touch with.

5. Have a conversation with a stranger.

6. Do a physical activity with someone.

7. Sit quietly with another person.

8. Make plans with someone for a future date.

Return to Current Issue Crisis Management: Expecting the Unexpected | May 2021
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