With lockdown restrictions easing across the country, we’re finally able to enjoy (albeit slowly and carefully) in-person socializing, post-pandemic. Dining outside, spending long weekends with family and friends, and even hitting the gym — simple activities that were off-limits just a year and a half ago — are now a possibility.
However, according to a recent Leger survey, more than half of Canadians feel anxious about returning to normalcy. After a year of digital conversations, many of us are feeling hesitant and socially rusty when it comes to getting back out into the world. How do I make small talk? Will conversations have changed? What should I be mindful of when talking to friends or new acquaintances?
Lucky for us, Babbel app’s expert sociolinguist, Jennifer Dorman, shared with Edit Seven her advice on how to emerge post-pandemic, socializing with other people in a real-life setting. Now you can go into face-to-face social meet-ups with ease!
Be mindful of your mask
Masks have definitely posed some difficulties when communicating in person due to the muffled sound and the inability to read lips. This has made it tricky when trying to order drinks, chat in a queue, or even greet others with a smile. Speaking more dramatically (louder, slower, and with more emotion) is an effective way to make up for the lack of smiles and frowns. Also double down on conveying tone, meaning, and intention with expressive eyes.
Tone down your body language
Body language has become more prominent as a result of communicating digitally and relying less on subtle signals or eye contact. When returning to physical settings post-pandemic, It’s much easier to pick up on small cues when socializing face-to-face. It’s a good idea to be mindful of toning down over-the-top gestures. We may have adjusted to this during lockdown video calls, but it comes across as overly intense in real life.
Make eye contact
Because of video communication, making eye contact might be something we forget to do. Making eye contact while communicating is a big component of making someone feel understood or heard during a conversation. While you shouldn’t intensely stare into your conversation partner’s soul, making eye contact shows that you’re present and comfortable in your surroundings. It can also help to form an emotional connection and can then create a sense of ease.
Ease into it
There’s a lot of attention and energy required to read and give body language on video calls, leading many of us to experience video fatigue. Video calls have also led us all to be more exposed, since all participants have videos turned on and feel like all eyes are focusing on us. People may feel overexposed now, taking part in in-person conversations, so it is best to ease into social settings. Start off with smaller group settings and interactions to make the larger social situations less daunting in the future.
Learn to keep it casual
Due to the focus on scheduled digitally mediated communication during the pandemic, there have been fewer opportunities for casual conversations. In a workplace setting, there are usually opportunities for impromptu “water cooler” type chats and fewer interruptions. This may have led to Maximizing Our Time syndrome, characterized by the expectation that conversations must have an agenda and result in actions or solutions.
It’s important to remember that the beauty of conversation is it can be casual. Not every conversation needs to be productive or solution-based. Try to let go of this and become comfortable with more relaxed and unstructured conversations.
Mastering the art of small talk
As we start to take part in social activities again, we’ll find ourselves meeting with strangers or acquaintances again. For those who are cautious about overstepping boundaries, keeping things simple is the way to go. Go-to topics can include pop culture, sports, and the weather; they are universal shared experiences that most people can connect on. If you’re feeling particularly stuck, a compliment rarely misses the mark, as long as it’s sincere.
Socializing in person is going to be a big adjustment, since we’re going from digital and small group interactions to settings with lots of people and, possibly, several conversations going on at once. Your brain can buzz from being distracted by all the different avenues of voices.
The best way to tune out white noise and not get distracted is to try your best to listen with intention and show genuine interest. Ask open-ended questions, to give your conversation partners space to talk about themselves and give you a better sense of how to connect. It’s sometimes easier to adjust in a social setting when you let others speak first.
BONUS: Remember that it’s normal to feel uneasy
With restrictions easing, we’re required to step outside of the comfort zone we’ve adjusted to in the last year. So, it’s natural to experience feelings of unease. It may feel as though we’ve forgotten how to communicate, as we adjust back to old norms. While it might take time to readapt to traditional ways of communication, the lead-up nerves are usually put to rest once you’ve reconnected with loved ones and the anxious feelings become feelings of joy.
For those feeling worried about socializing post-pandemic, plenty of other people are also experiencing FOMA — fear of meeting up again. Just as we adjusted to communication during lockdown, we’ll soon adjust back to face-to-face interactions. But, it’s important to be patient and take it slow, based on your own comfort level.