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Social Skills at Work

Not Just a New Grad Issue

I read an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled, "New Grads Have No Idea How to Behave in the Office" and I have...thoughts, so many thoughts, on this topic. I'll do my best to be brief.

The focus of the article was on young people entering the workforce lacking necessary social skills essential to working in an office. How to dress, how to make small talk, how to conduct yourself at a business meeting or dinner, "reading colleagues' cues" are all topics that, frankly, many of us struggle with even after having some work experience.

The Aftereffects of the Pandemic

There is a generation entering the workforce who are accustomed to spending their day in front of a laptop or tablet screen with little to no in person interaction with people who weren't family or close friends. The environment was the epitome of casual and separated. Throwing on a (sort of) clean shirt was the limits of what was required on screen. If you were seated in front of the camera, a floating head in a rectangle, no one could see that you were still wearing your pajama pants.

The pandemic and all the remote work it engendered ensured that even experienced workers started to lose some of the social skills we all take for granted. We're relearning what it means to be together in person.

How to Help Your Team

Model good behavior

  • Dress in clothing that is appropriate for your setting and meets company guidelines. If your environment is casual, ensure that you're wearing clothing that you wouldn't mind being seen in if you were in person.

  • Listen. Make eye contact, avoid multitasking, and allow team members to express their thoughts uninterrupted and respond to what was said with curiosity and respect. If you're remote, keeping your video on and looking at the camera will help team members see that you're paying attention and they will, too.

  • Ensure small talk is respectful of boundaries. Less experienced colleagues may not be aware of which topics are sensitive or off limits. You can teach them about appropriate office conversation through your example.

Provide avenues for people to reclaim social skills in small steps

  • Plan a casual event that includes structured and unstructured time. Include food, if possible, for team members to get reacquainted with how to act during a meal with coworkers. Yes, this can work for remote teams, as well, with some advanced planning.

  • Develop opportunities for team members to work in pairs or small groups to accomplish a task or project. This is especially helpful for newer and younger workers who can learn about expectations for their behavior from more experienced coworkers.

You've Got This

The need for honing social skills in the workplace is not just an issue for new graduates. As we navigate a new normal of hybrid work, many of us are relearning what it means to interact with others in a professional setting. As a leader, you can model good behavior and provide opportunities for your team members to reclaim their social skills in small steps. By doing so, you can help your team members regain the social skills necessary to succeed in the workplace, regardless of their level of experience.

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