The One Most Important Social Skill You’re Learning From COVID-19

A new way of thinking creates important new social skills you can use forever.

The One Most Important Social Skill You’re Learning From COVID-19 getty

Despite current social isolation needed to keep you healthy, you're actually uniquely expanding crucial social skills the world needs.

We all know how important social skills are for children. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., defines social skills as the abilities necessary to get along with others and to create and maintain satisfying relationships.

As a child, you learned these rules at home, in the classroom, and on the playground.


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Children who use excellent social skills relate well to the people in their surroundings using accurate communication skills, empathy, and behaviors. As a result, they're better able to succeed.

As an adult, you have also naturally focused social skills on your immediate relationships like home, work, your extended family, and neighborhood.

The advent of a global pandemic requires a new social skillset: The ability to assess your personal impact on a whole, interdependent world of people. In order to do this, you have quickly expanded your imagination and thoughts.


During COVID-19, the amount of thought required to safely do even the simplest things has been overwhelming at times.

Consider making a normal family meal. If you’re like me, in the past you would make a list, run to the store, grab a few things, bring them home, and cook them. Voila!

Have you noticed that planning and making a meal is way more complicated than it was last year?

First, you gather your grocery list as usual. Maybe you're lucky and have everything you need at home. But if you need to get groceries, your new social thinking clicks in.

Are the possible consequences of shopping worth going out to grab an item or two you might need? Is purchasing a lemon and parsley worth potentially endangering yourself or anyone else?


This is only the first of a network of thoughts involved in your new social awareness. Next, you contemplate whether it feels safer to go to the store or see if groceries can be delivered.

After all, if you go to the store, you come in contact with many others. But if you have someone shop for you, they come in contact with many others. They're one person in the store serving many consumers. Is that better? Is it fair to that person and their family?

Then, if you’re like me, your social thinking expands to the risk or wellbeing of everyone everywhere as you plan this one little meal.

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For example:

  • Am I being responsible toward the grocery employees stocking the store?
  • What about the truck drivers who need to carry the food to the store or to my home — which is safer for them?
  • Are people who grow or procure my food safe and cared for as they do their jobs?
  • Should I raise my own food; will that help others stay well?
  • On the other hand, if I don’t buy food from other places, will people starve?
  • Is it crucial to use local businesses, or more prudent to allow them time off?
  • Which country is the stuff I'm buying from and are those people being exploited or endangered?
  • Do I really need what I'm buying, or will someone else need it more?
  • How do my choices reflect my own privilege when others are unfairly negatively impacted?

New social skills blossom as you imagine your behavior's domino-effects on others.

I never really thought about my behaviors connecting to the lives of all others this much before.

At first it was exhausting, and a lack of accurate information about COVID-19 made these decisions nearly impossible. But as time goes on, it feels more natural to look at choices in light of other's lives.


Here’s the good news: After some initial mind-blowing overwhelm, you can actually get used to living in a world in which you hold awareness that all of your actions realistically impact everyone else.

We are thinking of others more.

When it comes to the collective experience of COVID-19, adults are learning to expand social skills to a global level in a whole new way.

Illness as an immediate, shared, global experience has forced us to broaden our empathy, communication, and behaviors to include as many people as possible.

Adapting to this new social skill takes patience and practice, but just as you once learned it was not OK to steal your friend's snack out of their hand, once you see how everyone's life improves, it will feel wrong to ignore.


The fact is that some people will acquire this social skill, and others will not.

That’s how it is with all social skills! And it's easy to feel sad and frustrated when you notice people missing this opportunity.

But if you recognize these new ways of being, it’s important to simply embrace these social skills and expand upon them. The challenge will be to remain mindful that you're part of a whole and interdependent human race — even when COVID-19 is no longer your main concern.


Why hold back when you have this opportunity to grow?

Remember when you were a child, you didn't discard your new-found skills even when others around you hadn't learned them yet. The same is true now.

How isolation affects your social skills is not the same as how it will affect others. Remember to practice kindness — to yourself as well as others — as you learn and develop new social skills due to this quarantine and pandemic.

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Ingrid Helander is a marriage and family therapist. For more information on her services, visit her website and sign up for her newsletter.