Can we relearn social etiquette?


Over the past few weeks, I have enjoyed seeing friends and going out for dinner as Covid restrictions ease in the UK. However, I did find some conversations confrontational and uncomfortable and wanted to reassure those who have had similar experiences. Yes, it is connected to lockdown living. Yes, it may well impact relationships at work as much as home and, yes, there are steps you can take to ease the problem.

One discussion at dinner became heated when discussing which industry has more of a drinking culture: advertising or professional services?! Essentially, a light-hearted and hypothetical debate and, unless you have worked in both industries, it’s hard to know for sure which one is better or worse. But one person was so adamant and unable to concede any opposing view that it made me reflect on why that was. Maybe the pent-up frustration of not getting out is taking over our ability to regulate our behaviour? Or, perhaps, it could just be our brains struggling to cope with having other people judge our opinions again?

It has made me realise that we are all a little socially awkward right now and the lack of perspective means our ‘chat’ needs some work. Like many people, part of me is desperate to get out of the house but equally a little anxious about whether it’s safe enough to do so. That’s before I even think about the energy required to go out and socialise.  

But while it’s tempting to justify staying in by avoiding fatigue and a hangover, we all need to get used to being around people again, socially and professionally. Our brains need to relearn social etiquette as well as dealing with the sensory overload of being outside the four walls of our homes. 

Dan Murray-Serter Co-Founder of Braincare company, Heights, speaking on, Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat, the podcast hosted by Bruce Daisley, describes how our brains adapted to the mental and physical exhaustion we all suffered during a year of endless zoom calls. So, when we do start to see each other in person our brains need time to adapt again because of the sensory overload. 

He said, ‘Our brain being plastic, you become your environment. We’ve had far more zoom calls and phone calls than ever before [in my life], our brain has become comfortable with that. If I were to meet you in the flesh and we were having this conversation in a pub right now, we would both be noticing more fatigue.’ 

There are far more sensory stimuli when we go out than when we’re at home. We must relearn how to be around people.  

When we think of this in a work context, it’s not just one person experiencing sensory overload, we will all be experiencing this. For introverts this may be far more difficult to relearn than for extroverts. It’s not just ourselves we need to be mindful of but our friends, family and peers too. 

So, how do we reconnect without overloading our senses and going from zoom burnout to social fatigue? Spoiler alert… It’s all about small steps. 

Our brains will absolutely relearn how to be around people again. Try to build in switch-off time, allow yourself to rejuvenate. You could also discuss with your team where your energy levels are each day so that you can support one another’s relearning of social etiquette. For example, could you use 10 minutes of a weekly team meeting to talk to one another about how you’re feeling about being back in the office and/or continuing to work from home – share any tips for how you make sure you have time out?

I also find another way to overcome social anxiety is by asking a few open questions and properly listening to the response before either making comment or asking another question. Initially, this may be mentally exhausting, but it will help reacquaint us with socialising. And, maybe this is something we should all start practicing anyway – sharing the air (taking it in turns to speak) and listening to others?

I’d love to know how you’re finding it returning to the outside world and what you’re doing to relearn social etiquette –

At Rosby, we’re on a mission to improve the experience of work for everyone. In doing so, we believe that people and businesses will thrive – creating happy, healthier workplaces.

Find out more about our services below.

You might also be interested in ...


Women, menopause and the mental overload

As a mum I am constantly having to make decisions about things. ‘What’s for dinner?’ ‘What can I do today?’ ‘What time are we leaving?’ ‘Can Sam come over?’ The