Q: I met up with friends in person for the first time in a year. It was so awkward. Help! This re-socializing thing is harder than I thought.
A: Pandemic introspection has taught some of us important lessons… and made many of us rusty on other-focused social skills.
Embrace timeless advice from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People: Ask questions. Smile. Listen. Make others feel important. In the 85 years since this classic guide became a Depression-era bestseller, positive psychology research has found much of the common-sense advice to be evidence-based, too.
Wonderful articles have been written about the lasting impact of pandemic introspection. (See links below.) And even as we embrace powerful personal learnings, lots of us are having that new-kid-in-school social awkwardness as we venture out for our first in-person social gatherings in a long time.
Enter Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. First published in 1936, during the Great Depression, it was billed as a practical guide for “doing the best you can.” In 2021, we’d encourage you to follow public health guidelines, get vaccinated … and consider Carnegie’s “Six Ways to Make People Like You” advice as newly relevant.
❓Become genuinely interested in other people. Ask open-ended questions about their life. What hobbies or interests do they have? It’s not “fake” to ask a few questions and learn about a subject or interest that is different than your own. When in doubt, try the basic “Tell me more…”
😊 Smile. This one is basic – and yet even more challenging under a mask. Eye contact helps here, too, because people can see you smiling with your eyes.
📛 Remember that a person’s name is to them the sweetest and most important sound in any language. Forgot their name? Smile and ask for a reminder … and listen/focus as the person answers. Then use it in the conversation. It’ll help you remember it going forward.
👂 Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves. You know what YOU’VE been doing for the last year – what about this person? Active listening means paying attention, paraphrasing and reflecting back what the person is saying without judgement. Also, do your best not to interrupt.
💡 Talk in the terms of the other person’s interest. Let’s say you’re talking to a friend or neighbor you haven’t seen in a while and they’ve had a very different year than you have. Ask them about it. “Wow, I didn’t bake at all this year. What prompted you to start?” or “I remember in beforetimes you were interested in rock climbing. Did you do any of that this year?”
🛎️ Make the other person feel important and do it sincerely. We are all important, and this is a reminder to respect other people for who they are and what they bring to the conversation. Find something to compliment or something nice to say. “I love your hair long!” and “It’s so good to see your face again!”
Yes, this is all basic advice. And yes, we all still need reminders of it. Inner honesty and personal reflection can go hand in hand with other-focused social skills as we emerge this spring.
More on Active Listening