I recently attended a symposium that addressed social isolation and loneliness in the lives of seniors, especially during the Covid pandemic.  The various presentations brought to mind my years of home visits and consults with individuals and families. Then and now I am struck by how much of this pain is preventable. True, there are societal forces that foster and reinforce isolation/loneliness, for example, access to transportation and broadband. Yet, for me, to only focus on external factors is to feel powerless. There must be something I can do!

I suggest that the most important thing I can do is to ask: “How might I be part of the problem?” It is vital to ask this question in a spirit of open-ended inquiry and NOT as a blame/shame/guilt cudgel. After all, if I am part of the problem then perhaps I can be part of the solution. WOW!

In the spirit of furthering this kind of empowerment, I recommend the book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry PhD & Jean Greaves PhD (2009).  The authors identify 4 skills essential to Emotional Intelligence:

  • Personal Competence – Self-Awareness and Self-Management
  • Social Competence – Social Awareness and Relationship Management

I will be talking about the Personal Competence component in another blog. Here I want to draw attention to the authors’ strategies for improving social competence. Specifically, how might my deficits in social competence be getting in the way of connecting to others in meaningful ways. This is not just about touchy-feely stuff! These deficits can undermine crucial interactions, for example: the doctor, pharmacist, driver, family member, neighbor, et al. So how can I bring to light any deficits I might have? The authors have provided us with strategies (pages 138 and 179):

Social Awareness

  1. Greet People by Name
  2. Watch Body Language
  3. Make Timing Everything
  4. Develop a Back-Pocket Question
  5. Don’t Take Notes at Meetings
  6. Plan Ahead for Social Gatherings
  7. Clear Away the Clutter
  8. Live in the Moment
  9. Go on a 15 Minute Tour
  10. Watch EQ at the Movies
  11. Practice the Art of Listening
  12. Go People Watching
  13. Understand the Rules of the Culture Game
  14. Test for Accuracy
  15. Step into Their Shoes
  16. Seek the Whole Picture
  17. Catch the Mood of the Room

Relationship Management Strategies

  1. Be Open and Be Curious
  2. Enhance Your Natural Communication Style
  3. Avoid Giving Mixed Signals
  4. Remember the Little Things That Pack a Punch
  5. Take Feedback Well
  6. Build Trust
  7. Have Been “Open-Door” Policy
  8. Only Get Mad on Purpose
  9. Don’t Avoid the Inevitable
  10. Acknowledge the Other Person’s Feelings
  11. Complement the Person’s Emotions or Situation
  12. when you care, Show It
  13. Explain Your Decisions, Don’t Just Make Them
  14. Make Your Feedback Direct and Constructive
  15. Align Your Intention with Your Impact
  16. Offer a ”Fix-It” Statement during a Broken Conversation
  17. Tackle a Tough Conversation

Which of these strategies rang a bell with you? Perplexed you? Irritated you?

What would it be like to explore each of these with a mentor? Perhaps to fess up to your tendency to talk about the “girl” in the office (who does have a name tag)? or how most of the time you are oblivious to the mood of the room?  or NOT taking feedback well? How do these habits contribute to your isolation and loneliness? How might you do something about it?