Get Into the Groove

May 27, 2020
How to ease back into resuming your leadership role following a long layoff.

Our social skills are like muscles. If we don’t use them, we lose them. 

As we come out of this season of COVID-19, many of us may not realize it, but our social skills have atrophied. We’re having less interaction with people than we once we did, with reduced staff numbers and fewer customers coming to our door. 

Personally, I’ve noticed that my skills at interacting face to face have weakened over the past couple of months of less workflow and more time working from home than normal. Little things, like my words not coming out quite right or my face-to-face interactions seeming shallower than normal. But with things starting to normalize, it’s time for me to hit the “emotional intelligence” gym and start flexing those social muscles again.  

To help get myself back on track, I compiled a list of five immediately actionable tactics—with a little help from some pop songs—that I can use to sharpen the saw of my social skills as things ramp back up to whatever the new normal will be. I hope you find them helpful, too. 

1. Say people's name. People love to hear their own name. Make a special point to work people’s names into a conversation and you will definitely have their attention. Of course, this can be overdone. You don’t want to begin every sentence with their name. But working it into the conversation every so often is a great practice to keep people’s attention and communicate you care about them personally. 

2. Have a ready-made, go-to question. Pop songs can help us here too, though not all of these are recommended: “How deep is your love?” “How will I know?” “Do you really want to hurt me?” (Can you name the artists?) Make sure your go-to question is open-ended and can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”. This ready-made question is super helpful for when the other person isn’t talking much. It is a way to express real interest in them and also deal with any awkward silences. Currently, my go-to is, “How has this pandemic affected your work life?” 

3. Be vulnerable. The songs here are too numerous to mention. Many of them are super sappy anyway. However, being honest with our feelings is one of the quickest paths to developing a real connection. It’s also among the hardest. No one likes to be vulnerable. And we never quite know if the other person will reciprocate. So, it's best to start small. The personal effects of the pandemic are one way in here. We’re all enduring the effects. It’s an unprecedented time where we all share in some of the suffering, or at least the hassle of all of the hand sanitizer and masks! 

4. Stay curious. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of having the right answer whenever someone faces a challenge, whether that is a customer needing an estimate or a co-worker needing some advice. But, how often do we rush to answer questions before fully understanding what the problem is or what is most important to the person in front of us? This is often how I’ve felt when dealing with doctors (surgeons, mostly), who never seem to have the time to let me unpack my questions or share things I think might be important. For them, it might feel like they’ve heard it all before and seen these symptoms a million times. But this was my first kidney stone, or hernia or whatever. Can we just take 5-10 minutes to check in on what I, the patient, might be wondering about or feeling? Like Kelly Clarkson’s song reminds us: Don’t be a “Mr. Know It All.” 

5. Slow down. Take the time to explain your decisions or why you’re requesting that bit of information. As an introvert, I’m prone to think that people can read my mind. I struggle to take the necessary time to explain things or provide context for directives or decisions that I’ve already made in my own head. Why don’t people just get where I’m coming from and do what I say?! Well, it’s likely because they have no idea all the thinking, research and reflection I’ve done up to that point to arrive at what now seems like a very logical conclusion. By slowing down and explaining the “why?” behind my decisions, I give others the needed time to catch up and embrace the decision. Simon and Garfunkel got it right way back in 1966 with their song, The 59th Bridge: “Slow down; you move too fast...”

Just like going to the gym, we can try to do too much, too fast. Don’t overexert yourself with these simple exercises or try to do them all at once. If your shop has been slow or you’ve been away from your shop for any length of time, give yourself grace and time to get back into the groove of leading your team and caring for your customers. Maybe pick one of these each week for the next month or so and really dig into practicing them. Here’s to being the best leader you can be in the months ahead.