by Ian Gourley, Up Your Level, Academy Manager

I’ve been intrigued with the array of changing themes and trends emerging post COVID in the workplace, whether it’s the greater emphasis towards employee engagement, the widespread acceptance of Working from Home or the emerging trend of ‘quiet quitting’. My thoughts turned to an elusive topic which is relatively unknown and rarely discussed – the area of social pain.

What is Social Pain?

We all, at some stage in our lives, have encountered and suffered from physical pain but I reckon that all of us have, at some stage, also felt social pain. Mark O’Leary, Professor Emeritus of Psychology & Neuroscience at Duke University defines social pain as a broad, informal label for painful emotions caused by situations involving other people, such as feeling rejected, alone, ostracised, devalued, abandoned, or disconnected. A recent study done by the University of Sao Paolo suggests that post-pandemic there has been a sharp rise in the number of individuals suffering from social pain, the fallout from social distancing, quarantines, the drastically reduced opportunity for social events and the increasing global uncertainty.

“No man is an island” clearly illustrates that as humans, we are social beings and value our social connections. We spend more time with our co-workers than any other group and when added to the increase in remote working – inevitably feelings of social isolation and disconnectedness preoccupy our thinking. These are classic symptoms of social pain. This inevitably rolls over to impact on our performance leading to a lack of cooperation, inability to control our emotions, feeling defensive or having no real purpose in what we are doing.

Like physical pain, social pain alerts us to threats in our social well-being and thus, has to be faced. It is manageable and once we have dealt with it, we in fact build better and stronger relationships. So, how do we manage social pain?

Dealing with Social Pain

The first step is to recognize and accept how we are feeling. This acceptance allows us to then address our mindset and how we are thinking. Here we need to focus on managing our thoughts, diverting attention away from what is causing us pain.  By immersing ourselves in sensorial experiences we can dull the impact of social pain – take a walk, do some exercise, meditate or listen to music. It is also vitally important that we reach out and connect with others, the more personal and direct the communication is, the better we can ease the social pain. 

What can leaders do?

From a leader’s perspective, the key element here is mastering emotional intelligence in identifying and ensuring the individual is made to feel included, in the leader’s ability to reach out and use EQ to reassure and encourage the individual. We have to pay attention to the verbal and non-verbal cues we are transmitting, which may unintentionally be more exclusive than inclusive. Take a long look around the team – are there signs of social pain – engage with your EQ, be proactive and focus on creating that truly inclusive workplace.

Interested in learning more?

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