Have we lost our social skills?
That was the question teed up on my recent “catch-up” call with Lauren Sayeski, a long-time Signature alumna and Chief Public Affairs, Communications, and Sustainability Officer for Coca-Cola Europacific Partners. I often have these calls with alumni, and I love them. However, over the pandemic, these weren’t calls in-between visits; they WERE the visit. Now we are headed back into a combination of live “catch-ups” and phone calls again.
In that moment when I heard Lauren’s question, I reflected that the coffee chats, happy hours, and 1-on-1 catch-up calls have all become video calls that are confined by a calendar. We are forced to rush through our conversations as we try to get through all the things we want to cover before Outlook tells us time is up. So, we aim for efficiency.
No longer do we have time for the easily flowing words shared as we sip a cup of coffee: the space where ideas and stories unfold. We used to ask about kids in a way that allowed for true sharing. Now, we give the last-minute, cursory, “How’s Jack?” “He’s good. He’s in 6th grade now.” “And Marcia?” “Getting her driver’s license.” “That’s great. Gotta run.” Because the next zoom is about to start, we lose the opportunity to hear how Marcia’s first drive was with her dad, or to share that our first driving experience was in the cemetery near our childhood home.
We learn our social skills growing up, but it takes time to get over the awkwardness of first interactions. Now, it feels a bit awkward again.
The art of social skills and behavior was famously articulated 100 years ago in Emily Post’s book, Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home. It was written in 1922. Now, her great, great grandchildren run the Emily Post Institute and have published a 19th edition of manners and social rules, now covering topics such as diversity, mobile technology, and internet behavior.
It felt as though Emily Post lived in my house growing up. As a child, I wore a hat and white gloves to church, along with my five sisters. My mom was a stickler for this, but with six girls, it was often hard to find a matching pair of gloves. “Wear one and hold one. Keep turning the pages of the hymn book with your ungloved hand, and no one will know the difference,” she would say. My mom planned 6 weddings, and the book Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette was worn thin. My mom went by the name Pokie, and neighbors started calling my mom “Pokie Post”.
Each of these books had the underlying goal of taking a tiny bit of care for others. My mom was the living example of this foundation. For example, when introducing people, it is good to say something about each person, so they have something to speak about and are not left nodding uncomfortably to each other. Think about this simple thing just for video calls. Do we think about how to take care of the other person in our video “visit”?
As we get back to live interactions, we need to draw on our authentic communication skills we may have forgotten in the fast-paced, time-based video world. We are walking with people, sitting with people, saying hello to passersby. The art of “first impressions”, especially the unplanned, will be unfamiliar territory until we get back in the groove. We have become so fixated on efficiency that, at times, we have taken our eye off the ball of personal touch.
Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, shares that persuasion first has to begin with “being liked”. How do you get someone, a stranger, to like you? He says you should try to do this in the first minute of your conversation, and the way to do that is to find something in common. It can be anything, such as both having a toddler, or a Peloton bike. As humans, we want to find something that suggest someone is “like us”. Through authentic communication, we can begin to relate in a deeper way.
This week, my entire Signature Team is coming to my mountain house. We have seen each other mostly through Zoom. We occasionally share time at a studio to deliver our programs, but we don’t have time for “real” interaction. Some of our team members are new in the last few months. We need to know each other outside of a box on a computer. We are going to play the icebreaker game “10 things you have in common”. For our newest members, I won’t have much to start with. I’ll need to discover at least 9 out of the 10.
I’m ready to get back to the unbound conversation, losing the clock, and finding my social skills again. I’m ready for quality conversations, deeper understanding, and greater meaning.
How about you?