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How to re-boot your social skills and confidence

The lockdown period has meant we’ve had to change our routines and spend significant amounts of time at home. Without the usual interactions we have with others, many of the people I talk with tell me they are experiencing one or both of these problems:

  • Some feel they are starting to lose their social skills and confidence and are therefore finding it easier to stay at home
  • Some are prioritising connection with colleagues but de-prioritising their relationships with other stakeholders (there’s only so much Zoom time one can cope with…)

Do you recognise this?  In the long-term, these will impede your ability to deliver value, both as an individual and as part of a team. They might even reduce your overall confidence and well-being.

This article focuses on rebooting your social skills and confidence and includes a couple of self-assessment questionnaires so you can see where you are and identify where you might need to invest development time.

Remember to think of the present situation as physical distancing, not social distancing!

I’ve drawn on research by Robert Waldinger about happiness – you might remember his TEDx talk from my article about Compassion for yourself and others – and from Martin Seligman about positive psychology. He’s the acknowledged founder of this approach, and I recently attended a webinar where he shared his views on the impact of Covid19. As a reminder of his work, you might like to revisit my article on Why and how to use positive psychology.

Why is socialising important?

There are lots of reasons why it’s important to maintain your interactions with other people. Here are two of the main ones.

1. We’re wired for human connection

Relationships are good for us. The strength of our relationships make us happier and healthier. However, relationships don’t take care of themselves. Like plants or children, they need constant tending and nurturing.

Human touch is also very important, and people who like hugging are particularly suffering during this time of social distancing. This 2010 article from Berkeley reviews the studies about the impact of touch: Hands-on research.

2. Helping other people is good for us

Seligman says that altruism is one of the best routes to meaningful happiness, along with solidarity and care. We are wired to feel good when we help others, and this is at the heart of positive psychology.

You’ll find some ideas about what you can do for other people below.

What stops us socialising?

If mixing with people is so good for us, what prevents us from doing it?

One reason is if we’ve been hurt or rejected before. If that applies to you, this analogy might help.

Imagine your pain is a teaspoon of salt in a cup of water. If you tried to drink it, it would taste horrible. But if that same amount of salt was in a bucket of water, or a bath of water, the taste would still be there but it would be reduced.

As you’ve no doubt worked out, the water represents a broadening awareness of your environment. This is where mindfulness comes in. Paying attention to your physical environment and your physical body broadens your focus and helps to get you out of the ruminating that may be going on in your head. This will encourage a sense of calm and perspective, and help you feel more at one with the world.


Think about the people you know who bring you joy and warmth, and those you feel most relaxed and confident with. Start by connecting with those people.

In a work context, it might help to complete this grid with the names of your colleagues and stakeholders (impact = people’s impact on your ability to do your job):

Social confidence grid

To reboot your social skills and confidence, begin by talking to the people in the top right corner – those you see as having high impact and high psychological safety. Then reconnect with the people with medium impact and high psychological safety.

Once you’re back in the swing of things, you might want to connect with those who are high / medium impact and low psychological safety. Perhaps some of the people in the first two groups might help you deal with those in the third group.

Other than being polite, you might not want to deal with the people in the bottom left corner at all (those people with low impact and low psychological safety).

Staying positive

Seligman advised that, in the middle of a pandemic, we should focus on having as much fun as we possibly can! So, consider what you love doing, and do it more.

Coming out of lockdown (whatever that looks like where you are), his advice is to radiate and inspire your workmates with hope and optimism. We all know people who are like this. Who do you know, and how do they make you feel? What can you learn from them and apply?

I would add to this by increasing your self-awareness of what gives you energy and what depletes it – this will be individual to you. Centre yourself by thinking about how your actions and interactions make you feel. Do they make you energised or calm? Or do they deplete you? If a person or activity depletes you, then don’t do it!

One thing that the pandemic has done is to generate a feeling of solidarity. We’re not alone. Everyone around the planet is affected by this, and that knowledge helps us all cope.

Another silver lining is that we have a much greater awareness of the importance of our own health and mental health – this is one reason why I’m recommending you are conscious of who/ what depletes you and who/what brings you joy.

This links to last month’s article about Understanding and managing anxiety.

Practical tips

What I’ve observed in clients is that, from March to May, leaders were focused on caring for each other and supporting individuals with their personal situation. They were ensuring everything was in place for work to get done, while being tolerant around what people could realistically accomplish while working from home.

Now, most clients are figuring out what returning to the office looks like, and refocusing on strategic priorities.

I’d add these three additional things to consider:

  1. Rebuild your social networks
  2. Learn from how you coped (and maybe even flourished) during lockdown. What did it feel like? What did it enable? Remember that work still got done, and maybe got done quickly. There was more solidarity and less bureaucracy. Keep what you want to keep and let go of the rest.
  3. Focus on team development, whether that’s virtual or face-to-face. As you may know, I’ve been involved in facilitating virtual team meetings. These were initially around how to care for and support people at home, then making sure clients have clear priorities to the end of 2020, and most recently, looking towards 2021. Adding to this is an awareness of the importance of continuing to focus on the team itself, so I’m also designing virtual team development workshops.

If your mental health is not good, please get help. A lot of my coaching clients have wanted to press ‘pause’ on developing their skills, and are more interested in coping with relationships and their own mental health. If you live with others, you probably didn’t sign up to be with them 24/7! This puts a strain on many relationships, so please let me know if you need that kind of support.

Helping others

Here are some thoughts around what you can do to help other people:

Consider who you know that might be alone, and contact them. Do this in the moment they come to mind. Don’t wait until later because you’re less likely to do it.

Remember that heartfelt listening is a real gift, and a way of staying connected. You might ask: “Tell me about your experience over the past two or three months” and then just listen.

Make a note of key events in other people’s lives, such as birthdays, and call them, or send a text message to let them know you’re thinking of them.

Defining social intelligence

Social intelligence is a branch of emotional intelligence. For more on this, please see my article on Emotionally intelligent teams.

These definitions are from the book Social Intelligence: The new science of human relationships by Daniel Goleman. The book has been out for a while, but it’s still relevant.

Social awareness

Where are you on the social awareness spectrum? Rate yourself from 1 (low) to 6 (high)

  • Primal empathy: Feeling with others. Sensing non-verbal emotional signals. Able to instantly sense another person’s inner state.
    1     2     3     4     5     6 
  • Attunement: Attuning to a person. Listening with full receptivity.
    1     2     3     4     5     6 
  • Empathic accuracy: Understanding someone’s thoughts, feelings and intentions.
    1     2     3     4     5     6 
  • Social cognition: Knowing how the world works so you can ‘get’ complicated social situations.
    1     2     3     4     5     6 

Social facility

Social facility builds on social awareness and is essential to guarantee effective interactions. Where are you on the social facility spectrum? Rate yourself from 1 (low) to 6 (high)

  • Synchrony: Interacting smoothly on a non-verbal level.
    1     2     3     4     5     6 
  • Self-presentation: Presenting yourself effectively.
    1     2     3     4     5     6 
  • Influence: Able to shape the outcome of social interactions.
    1     2     3     4     5     6 
  • Concern: Caring about the needs of others, and acting accordingly.
    1     2     3     4     5     6 

How socially intelligent are you?

Here are some slightly adapted questions that were devised for leaders by Harvard Business Review and the Hay Group in 2008 as part of their 360-degree Emotional and Social Competency Inventory.

Where would you rate yourself? (1 = low, 6 = high). You could also use the questionnaire to seek input from people you work with. You’ll then know which strengths you can play to, and if any areas need improvement.

To assess your level of organisational awareness: Do you appreciate the culture and values of your organisation or group? Do you understand social networks? Do you know their unspoken norms?
1     2     3     4     5     6 

To assess your level of inspiration: Do you articulate a compelling vision? Do you build group pride? Do you lead by bringing out the best in people? Do you foster a positive emotional tone?
1     2     3     4     5     6 

To assess your level of teamwork: Do you solicit input from everyone on the team? Do you encourage cooperation? Do you support all team members?
1     2     3     4     5     6 

To assess your level of influence: Do you persuade others by engaging them in discussion and appealing to their self-interest? Do you get support from key people?
1     2     3     4     5     6 

To assess your level of developing others: Do you invest time and energy in mentoring? Do you coach and mentor others with compassion? Do you provide feedback that people find helpful for their professional development?
1     2     3     4     5     6 

To assess your level of attunement: Are you attuned to other people’s moods? Do you think about how other people feel? Do you listen attentively?
1     2     3     4     5     6 

To assess your level of empathy: Do you understand what motivates other people, including people from different backgrounds to yours? Are you sensitive to other people’s needs?
1     2     3     4     5     6 

Further reading

If you found this information useful, you might also enjoy my related articles:

Next month

As usual, we’ll take a break for August and will be back in September with more leadership insights.