Ever go to a networking event and see someone with this look on their face? Do you go to networking events and have this look on your face? I have seen a growing trend congruent with the use of technology that has more and more people with underdeveloped social interaction skills.
As a coach of a college sports club, I have been around kids of the Millennial and Gen Z age for over a decade now. My communication styles have had to adapt to them, as they come into the club with certain expectations or just even habits about the way they want to communicate, and to be interacted with. Once they graduate, they move on and take those same predispositions with them into the real world. This is where things get sticky. They are still greatly outnumbered in the real world, and are forced to conform to communication styles that fit everyone who is already out there. I can imagine if feels like whiplash to a degree; a stark shift in communication styles from the previous ten years of their life.
We hear all the time that “Millennials can’t socially interact” or “They are difficult to manage”. Simon Sinek has done several excellent talks regarding this exact issue. As he is quick to point out, while lack of patience is a huge problem for this group, they communicate differently, not less or inefficiently than other generations. I have seen kids at team practice texting each other while within ten feet of one another. Technology may have been meant to keep us better connected, but the ability to personally interact with others is diminishing quickly.
Here’s the thing…it’s just like everything else. If you struggle with being comfortable in social situations, you just need more practice. In today’s world, it is easy to NOT have to talk to anyone if you choose not to. You can order Dutch Bros or Starbucks on your app, pick it up at the store, and not have to say anything to anyone. You can have your headphones on all the time, and block out the world around you. While these things may seem like harmless habits, it is has a cumulative effect, and the ramifications of this can be large.
One of the biggest health concerns of people born after 1997 rate anxiety and depression as one of their major concerns. Having grown up with Social Media and technology as part of their daily lives, the correlation seems clear. The more use of technology to replace true connected interactions with others, and constantly being bombarded with the “highlight reel” of what most share on their Social Media, feelings of isolation and inadequacy stack up quickly. This is where the cumulative effect takes it toll.
Keep in mind, we ALL have the same concerns about social acceptance and feeling awkward. It is part of the deal when you live in a society; it has been since the dawn of civilization. Part of the maturation process is to go from striving to please your parents to trying to fit into your peer social group, and the larger group of the entire “tribe” you exist in. Back when we were hunters and gatherers, we proved our place in the circle by contributing to the greater good. We learned to hunt or possess other skills that would bring value to those around you. Now that we eat by order through DoorDash or going to a restaurant and having someone else prepare food for us, we have shifted to communication and interaction being the catalyst for fitting into your social peer group.
Technology has allowed your peer group to now be all over the world instead of a room full of people. If your job requires you to interact socially (and most do in one form or another) you need to pull the headphones out and start getting comfortable to some degree with talking to strangers. If you want to open doors and create sales or other opportunities as part of your career, get good at this skill quick. It will separate you from the rest of the pack, trust me. Remember, most people do not like talking in front of a group or walking into a room full of strangers and striking up conversations. If you could master yourself enough to be even mediocre at this, you would stand out in a hurry.
I will shed a little light on a technique (trick) I use all the time. Yes, I too have a little social anxiety; I am not immune, despite doing sales and speaking as part of my daily life. Breathing is the key to staying calm and relaxed. Diaphragmatic Breathing to be exact. Before you are about to engage in a social situation that you think will make you feel anxious, take a moment and do the following:
Take a moment and remind yourself that EVERYONE feels the same way.
Now, Inhale through your nose, slow and deep, for at least 7 seconds
Hold for 7 seconds
Exhale slowly and completely for 7 seconds.
Hold for 7 seconds
Repeat three times
This will help deactivate the “fight or flight response” your brain has in stressful situations. This built in self-preservation software has been hard wired into your brain for millennia. While it used to help keep you from getting eaten in the wilderness, is now can work against you in most cases. It is not necessary to defend yourself in social situations, but your brain reacts like it is. Reverse this cycle with the “RULE OF 7” breathing technique; you will feel better right away, and your mind will be ready to focus on conversations and maybe even enjoy the experience. If you feel yourself getting anxious again, repeat the breathing technique. You can do it at any time, and no one would know you are doing it. Make it your secret weapon, and go outshine the competition.
Another thing you need to make sure you do is simple…unplug. Take your headphones off and say hello to people around you. Use everyone in your daily life as practice to develop this skillset. You will feel better and more connected to the world if you do, the isolation will slowly melt away. The feeling of being a disconnected observer will slowly switch over to you being a part of the flow of the world around you. It will take time, but it will happen. Stick with it; know you are going to not be great at it right away, but with time, practice, and a little patience, you will get there. And you will be better off for it.