23rd September 2021

Returning to the Office? The Surprising Skills Employees Need.

Zoom meetings. Virtual team happy hours. Online collaboration tools. This was how we worked and interacted with our colleagues for over a year. 

As offices reopen, many of your team members 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 you may be anxious about what to say the first time you see a colleague in the breakroom after fifteen 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. 

*( M.D. Liberman and N.I. Eisenberger, “Pain and Pleasures of Social Life,” Science 323, no.5916 (February 13, 2009): 890-891.)

While your team members’ social skills may be rusty, there is a foundation you can build upon. To ease return to work social anxiety, encourage your employees to refine their interpersonal communication skills.  

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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 young children. The parents, teachers, and 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. The Platinum Rule challenges the assumption that other people want to be treated the way you 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. 

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

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Identify Your Colleagues’ Work Styles to Apply the Platinum Rule

To use the Platinum Rule and understand how your team members and colleagues want to be treated, identify their work styles. Your work style is the way you think about, organize, and complete your tasks.

In any office you will find four types of work styles:

  • Logical, analytical, and data-oriented
  • Organized, plan-focused, and detail-oriented
  • Supportive, expressive, and emotionally oriented
  • Strategic, integrative, and idea-oriented

To determine the work style of a colleague, think about the following questions:

  • Does she consistently complete work early, in advance of deadlines, or wait until the last minute?
  • Does he send emails with only a few words, or write novels?
  • Does she gesture and use her hands while talking? Or is she more controlled and stoic in her movements?

If you need additional clues, notice the type of work that your team members prefer and where they excel.

  • Your logical, analytical colleague is at her best when she processes data and solves complex problems. She will focus like a laser to achieve any stated goal or outcome and will ensure that you stay on budget.
  • Your organized, detail-oriented colleague prefers to establish order from chaos, outline project plans, and create to-do lists. He will ensure work is completed accurately and on time.
  • Your supportive, expressive colleague expertly builds relationships, facilitates team interaction, and sells ideas. She will keep all stakeholders up to date on work and effectively communicates ideas throughout the organization.
  • Your big-picture, integrative colleague can serve as a catalyst for change, brainstorm solutions to problems, and synthesize disparate thinking. He will drive innovation, ensure variety in both thought and execution, and keep you moving forward.

Tailor Your Communication to Your Coworkers’ Work Styles to Use the Platinum Rule

Once you have identified your colleagues’ work styles, leverage the Platinum Rule by tailoring your communication to their preferred work style. 

Here’s how:

  • Your logical, analytical, and data-oriented colleagues want you to focus on data and the facts. Be brief, succinct, clear, and precise. Think through your ideas in advance and present them in a logical format. If you send an email, be direct, to the point, and technically accurate.
  • Your organized, plan-focused, and detail-oriented colleagues want you to stay on topic, avoid digressions, present your ideas in a sequential, organized manner and provide detailed timelines. If you send an email, outline your main points and clearly state their next action steps and the due date.
  • Your supportive, expressive, and emotionally oriented colleagues want the conversation to be informal, open, and warm and have no hidden agenda. They want to know who is involved in projects, and they want team members to have equal consideration when plans are being made. If you send an email, include a salutation and connect with them personally before you transition to the topic of the email.
  • Your strategic, integrative, and idea-oriented colleagues want you to communicate with minimal details, provide the big picture with visuals and metaphors, and articulate how the project aligns with the organization’s strategy. They prefer an overview and broad conceptual framework, so limit the details. If you send an email, provide the big picture and context for the email and avoid too many details.

As your office re-opens, acknowledge the social anxiety, awkwardness, and self-consciousness your team members may be feeling. Address the elephant in the room at your first in person team meeting and say “So, this is weird, right?” And invite your team members to share their work style and how they want to work with and communicate with others on the team so they can cultivate more positive social interactions in the office.

To ensure your office re-opening plan engages your workforce, balances flexibility, connection, collaboration, and performance, and supports your employees’ wellbeing download our free Office Re-Opening Transition Success Guide.