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A surprising skill you may need to brush up on as you return to the office

It makes sense that you may be anxious about what to say the first time you see a colleague in the break room after 15 months of Zoom exchanges.

A surprising skill you may need to brush up on as you return to the office
[Source photo: fizkes/iStock]
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Zoom meetings. Virtual team happy hours. Online collaboration tools. This was how we worked and interacted with our team members for over a year.

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As offices reopen you may be wondering, do I even know how to socialize in person anymore?

Social skills are skills. If you haven’t used them in a while, it makes sense that you may be anxious about what to say the first time you see a colleague in the break room after 15 months of Zoom exchanges.

However, humans are social animals with a fundamental need for connection. Social needs are treated the same way in the brain as the need for food and water. We are hardwired to be social. While your social skills may be rusty, there is a foundation you can build upon. Let’s use it.

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Use working agreements to get to know your colleagues again

You and your colleagues have changed in the last 15 months. Use the return to the office as an opportunity to get to know your colleagues again and improve your communication and productivity.

During your first week back in the office, schedule a meeting with each of your team members and explore the following topics.

Communication

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  • If there is an urgent need, what is the best way for me to contact you?
  • What times during the week are you unavailable to communicate via email, phone, text, and IM?
  • What information will we share via email, text, IM, on the phone, or in person?

Work coordination

  • How do you want to communicate with each other on projects?
  • Which of our projects/tasks would benefit from collaboration and interdependent work?
  • What days of the week work best for you to be in the office to collaborate?
  • What can we do to capitalize and maximize the benefits of our in-person collaboration?
  • What can we do to optimize our virtual collaboration?
  • Which of our projects/tasks can be completed independently with minimal coordination?

Rethink the Golden Rule to cultivate positive social interactions and relationships

Many of us learned the Golden Rule—to treat others as you want them to treat you—as a young child. Your parents, teachers, and the adults in your life knew that the Golden Rule’s core virtues of empathy and compassion for others guided positive social interaction.

As an adult, I learned about the Platinum Rule and came to realize that it more powerfully shapes positive social interaction. It suggests that you treat others the way they want to be treated. You approach people with the intention to first understand how they want to be treated and then adapt your interactions with them to meet their needs.

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The Platinum Rule is a powerful way to foster mutual respect and understanding between colleagues and on teams. It can also help you avoid making a negative assumption about a teammate’s behavior, which undermines constructive social interchanges and relationships.

Speak your teammates’ language to enhance communication

Each of your teammates thinks and communicates differently. Treat them the way they want to be treated and ensure that you are heard and understood by each of your colleagues in a hybrid workplace. Answer what, how, who, and why in every communication and team member interaction.

What

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  • Identify the goal, purpose, or objective.
  • Identify the facts or data.

How

  • Identify the action steps to achieve the goal, purpose, or objective.
  • Identify any existing procedures, policies, and requirements.

Who

  • Identify who is involved to achieve the goal, purpose, or objective.

Why

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  • Identify why this goal, purpose, or objective matters to the team and the company.

When you return to your office and feel your cheeks flush as you stumble for something to say to your colleague over coffee, remember they probably feel the same way. Give yourself some grace and let your hardwiring take over.


Carson Tate is the founder and managing partner of Working Simply, Inc., a business consulting firm that partners with organizations, business leaders, and employees to enhance workplace productivity, foster employee engagement, and build personal and professional legacies. She is the author of Own It. Love It. Make It Work: How To Make Any Job Your Dream Job.