Jessica joined RWA in 2018, having graduated with a First Class Honours degree in Film Studies. Her role as a content designer involves developing new and engaging e-learning modules as well as assisting in the creation of articles for Insight.
As the number of people receiving the COVID-19 vaccine increases, there comes with it the expectation to return to regular forms of social engagement. The news of stepping out and meeting up with people should be one of excitement - so why does it also come with a feeling of dread?
For those of us who already felt socially awkward long before the pandemic or suffer from social anxiety, the initial concept of staying at home was idyllic (who willingly wants to be on a crowded bus in close proximity to random strangers every day?). The novelty, of course, wore off very quickly as the months went on, and the lack of interaction with the outside world has certainly had a knock-on effect on mental health and social skills.
At the height of the pandemic, many people were feeling lonelier and more isolated. Conversations with family, friends and colleagues were restricted to video and phone calls – which slowly dwindled to silence once we had run out of things to talk about! Going outside granted a minor reprieve, but with faces obscured by masks and visors, it has made it difficult to convey expressions or even maintain eye contact with strangers for long periods until we can return to the safety of our homes once again.
The isolation of the pandemic and an increased reliance on digital forms of communication has affected everyone’s confidence in social interactions. Our ‘social muscles’ have atrophied to the point where things that once came natural to us now feels uncomfortable and stilted.
This problem has also had an impact on our working lives. Those who were previously confident in public speaking may now find they feel out of practice and may avoid giving large presentations that would have previously benefited their career. In addition, the increasing expectation to reconnect with people can be very exhausting, creating more reluctance to participate in public events or being able to network with clients.
Returning to the office itself has also been a huge milestone, but the transition has not been a straightforward one, with many employees seeking to work from home in the long term. Whilst flexible working does have a number of benefits for businesses – which we have discussed in previous articles – it does come at the cost of vital communication skills becoming lost.
As well as the risk of soft skills becoming underdeveloped, insurance brokers are currently experiencing a hard market and are finding it difficult to get good deals for clients from underwriters. Not only have the effects of the pandemic resulted in increased hesitancy to underwrite risks but the difficulty in brokers meeting with insurers/underwriters to secure deals have also been exacerbated – it is easier to say ‘no’ in an email than it is face-to-face!
Additionally, as it is harder to get cost-effective cover for clients, brokers will need to be able to communicate effectively with clients to discuss their insurance needs, including potentially having to communicate disappointing news and explaining clearly how a policy will operate so that there are no misunderstandings.
The importance of soft skills
Some of us may have already joked about needing to relearn how to be around others in the post-pandemic world, but that might not be such a bad idea after all.
In these times, soft skills relating to communication and problem solving are being seen as integral for businesses to succeed. Employers should not overlook soft skills in favour of more measurable technical skills and should instead be encouraging new and existing employees to work on developing these skills at a time where we all feel disconnected.
It is important not to let the pandemic set you back from all your hard-earned progress. Everyone is currently under the same pressures to regain their social lives, which means that we can help support each-other and should speak up when we could use some assistance.
Getting back to reality
Do not feel pressured to fill up your social calendar now that bars and restaurants have reopened. Trying to jump right back into large gatherings is unlikely to snap your confidence back to how it was before and may potentially achieve the opposite effect. Start with smaller, more manageable gatherings instead, preferably in outdoor settings unless all participants are comfortable to meet indoors. Despite the lower risks of exposure to COVID-19, many people still might not want to tempt fate.
It is inevitable that conversations will be awkward in the beginning. Now is the time to embrace and utilise those moments of awkwardness and use them as a learning experience. Build upon them through humour to break the ice and find familiarity again with the people you are connecting with. The overall goal is to feel comfortable and actually enjoy being in social situations again.
Soft skills training is another solution for returning confidence in social situations. Soft skills are ideal for short, focused training modules concentrating on individual concepts, which also makes them easier to track and may help improve knowledge retention. Modules can be integrated in to your normal routine with less disruption, allowing you to use the concepts you have learned straight away and undertake learning more frequently.
The Development Zone platform is a great way to develop, deliver and monitor your skills training, with an array of soft skill courses available on the Content Catalogue. To find out more, why not visit the website at https://www.mydevelopment.zone, or if you are already registered on the DevZone, why not try one of our communication skills modules and test your knowledge today?
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