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Social Tightening While Social Distancing With Thom Singer

REW 3 | Social Tightening


We think of social distancing as a necessary health protocol now that we are facing a pandemic, but the term can be misleading when it comes to human relationships. As we are all forced to physically distance from each other, the need for social connection – for “social tightening”– becomes all the more acute. Author, podcast host, content creator and growth leadership speaker, Thom Singer coined this term to remind people that we need to have to connect with the people in our lives, now more than ever. In this conversation with Moneeka Sawyer, Thom explains the epidemic of loneliness that has been going on ever since before the pandemic, how physical distancing has been exacerbating it, and how we can take action and make the effort to have real interactions beyond social media likes and blanket emails.

Listen to the podcast here


Social Tightening While Social Distancing With Thom Singer

I am excited to welcome to the show my friend, Thom Singer. He is an advisor to executives, a speaker, and a content creator. After a successful career in sales and marketing, he became a growth leadership speaker in 2009. A decade later, he has brought his high energy presentations and action-oriented content to over 950 audiences. He is the author of twelve books and is the host of two podcasts, The Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do, which I have been on and the Digital Enterprise Society Podcast. On these shows, he has interviewed over 550 business leaders and others with a focus on discovering how the most successful people get farther across the gap between potential and results. He and his wife make their home in Austin, Texas, and are the parents of two highly spirited daughters. Thom, how are you?

I am great because I’m here on your show.

We had so much fun on your show. I can’t wait to see what happens here. Ladies, one of the things I wanted to tell you about Thom is he is a very compassionate person. He’s very business-focused, but he brings compassion in his heart to the business. He’s got this blog that he writes and it’s on ThomSinger.com. He writes these amazing articles about how to stay connected, how to bring your heart to business as well as a lot of different topics. One of the articles that he wrote one day, and I loved it, was about a term he’s coined called Social Tightening. With what everybody is going through with the Coronavirus, I wanted to talk specifically about that and how we can help our relationships to thrive and fill our hearts back up if we’re feeling lonely. Thom, talked to me a little bit about social tightening. Let’s start by defining it.

This term, social distancing started coming up on all the newscasts and all the articles that you read because this was going to be the way that we were going to flatten the curve and be able to stop this virus. Some people were stepping up going, “Social distancing doesn’t right. It’s physical distancing. People need to keep socially connected.” I started calling it social tightening as you social distance or as you physically distance. Long before this started, going back many years, there’s been an epidemic of loneliness that has been under the radar in our society.

A gentleman by the name of Dr. Vivek Murthy, who was the nineteenth surgeon general under President Barack Obama, when he was doing research and going out and talking to people about this big opioid crisis that we face in the country, an underlying thing he discovered was this whole epidemic of loneliness. He wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review. It spoke to me because I go out and teach people how to connect, but there are always people at conferences who don’t feel connected to that conference, to their coworkers, etc. Long before we had to stay at home, there were already 20% of our population felt lonely. I got concerned that this is going to get worse however long we have to do this.

We were at the airport down in San Diego after the New Media Summit. When you’re at a conference, one of the things that you talk about is this whole idea of social media versus networking. Could you tell me a little bit about what you told me then? That is so impacted me.

I think that we have forgotten over the last decade that a link, a share, or follow does not equal a human relationship. Just because you’re connected to someone on Twitter, doesn’t mean they ever log on and look at anything you say, it used to be. I talked to a person who worked in technology years ago and he said, “Email is a best-effort communication tool. Just because I send you an email, I don’t know if it got there. I don’t know if you ever read it. Even if you open it, I don’t know if you read it.” As much as we rely on email, it’s always stuck on me that it’s only a best-effort communication tool. Social media then came in, and everybody’s broadcasting everything. Everything is on Twitter. They’re going live to all their friends and they’re putting up fancy pictures of them making Kardashian faces or whatever.

The problem is that once I put something on Facebook or whatever medium, I assume that everyone who knows me has seen it, but there are two problems. That person may have paid no attention or the algorithm of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter decides who sees what we post. It’s only 10% of the people who follow you. A couple of years ago, before the algorithms had even taken over, I was talking to a friend of mine from high school and I said to her, “How’s Lisa,” who is her best friend from high school. She went, “Thanks for asking. She goes into this whole thing.” I was like, “What are you talking about?” “Lisa’s dead. She had been killed in a hiking accident three weeks earlier.” I was like, “I had no idea.” She went, “It was all over social media.”

I had been on a European vacation and didn’t check Facebook for two weeks. When I had logged on, it had all died down amongst all of our friends. I never knew. Nobody ever thought to call, to email, or text because it was put on Facebook. That was years ago. I learned right away that that is worse than a best-effort communication. That’s a crap communication. We think that social media is networking, but we have no idea if it’s landing with anybody as opposed to if you’re face-to-face and we have a conversation in the bar. I’m pretty sure you heard me if we’re standing there. We can’t treat them as the same thing. We have to get back to this whole idea of personal interaction with people, whether it’s digital or live. My motto through this whole Corona crisis has been, “More personal/less broadcast.”

Let’s talk specifically about social tightening. What that means and what are some strategies we can use to get closer?

While we’re living in this era, it’s going to be with us for a while. Now, we’re all on lockdown, but soon it might be partial lockdown. We’re working from home. Let’s look at coworkers. There’s office culture. There are things that happen. Billy always takes the big coffee mug. They aren’t happening, but that also means that we’re not having real interactions. We need to make an effort. We have to be intentional of where we are putting our intention and attention when it comes to the people in our lives. With coworkers, there’s probably a team meeting where everybody’s on Zoom and they might be a Slack channel or a group email, but that doesn’t mean that Mary Lou and I are having a conversation. We need to take a little bit of time to reach out one-to-one to our coworkers.

The same thing is true with our friends, with our extended family. The same thing is true with our clients. How many newsletters have you gotten in your email inbox since the Coronavirus started? Mine has gone up unscientifically by five times. I get 100 newsletters a day, where people are telling me to check the CDC website and wash my hands. That’s great, but my local pet store didn’t need to be the one to tell me that. We’re having all of this broadcast and everybody thinks, “What’s important to people COVID, so that is the title.”

Maybe if my doctor or if the White House sent me something, but I don’t need that from my accounting firm. We need to broadcast less, especially about things we’re not experts about and have one-to-one communication, which means you’re going to have to take the time to send an individual email, an individual text, make a phone call, reach people, and leave a message. Whatever that says, “Moneeka, I was thinking about you and your show is such a delight for everybody as we’re going through these rough times. It brings bliss to people. Thanks for doing that.” That’s personal. If I send an email to every podcaster I know and go, “Keep up the good work. Podcast like crazy,” you probably won’t even open it much less understand that I was saying, “You’re an important part of this solution.”

As you said those two things, one of them made my eyes well up with tears and gratitude and the other one was, “Yes, I heard that.” It is an emotional reaction. I don’t know if you felt what that difference was like, but it’s true. My email box has ballooned from 1,000 emails a day to 3,000 emails a day.

During this crisis, we need to make an effort at having real interactions with the people in our lives. Share on X

It is 3 to 5 times more is what’s happening.

I can’t keep up with it all. It is so much more as falling through the cracks. I feel like I’m working harder, feeling less satisfied. There’s this weird thing. Instead of being part of the problem, which it is now, it becomes part of the solution. Make someone’s email box, inbox their friend again. Whether you do email or not, and I’m not encouraging that, I love the idea of doing texting, personal phone calls, even to leave a message. On Facebook, you can do Messenger. You can still direct message all of them on Facebook, on Instagram, LinkedIn, whatever you’re using. You can do personal stuff. I am getting personal stuff there.

I did get a message on Instagram as to what you said, Thom. They’re like, “Thank goodness that you’ve pivoted and done a little bit more about Bliss. We need that.” It was good feedback for me and it keeps me going and it keeps juiced. What can we do for each other? You’re taking a look at the whole balance of it because you’re business-focused. In our families, with our friends and in business, how can we pivot with all of those people? You gave us all an exercise while we were at the New Media Summit. Can you tell us about that? I’ve been doing it. You told us to send five personal messages a day.

I’ve narrowed it down since then to three because five freaks people out. I’ve been telling everybody to reach out every single day to three people because there’s a thing called the Dunbar curve. Some of your readers may have learned of it. It was a series of research done many years ago and people have tried to dispute it. I don’t care if somebody thinks, “That’s been disproven.” The concept of it is awesome and that is we can only have about 150 people who were friendly with. You have your inner circle of about five. You then have maybe your friends that are about fifteen, but your community can only be about 150 people. Where if I were to say their name, you would be able to tell me who their children are and where their children went to school, etc.

The argument has been made over the last years and that’s been expanded. Social media allows it to be bigger. I had somebody say, “My extended community is 30,000.” That’s crap. If it is, then you’re the outlier. Using 150 people who can be in your circle of friends and associates, and they took this back to ancient times. Villages used to be about 150 people. When the village would get larger, it would split in half. Some people would move away because it gets too big to handle. Your personal brain is wired for about 150 people. I don’t care if you’re in sales, if you have online courses, or if you have a podcast, you might have a mailing list with 5,000 or 50,000 or more people on it, but you don’t know who those people are.

During this crisis, blanket mailing people you don’t know isn’t what those people need. I don’t care how brilliant you think you are. They don’t need another newsletter from you. However, the 150 people who know you, know your kids’ names, not because they’ve heard you say it on a show. Because they’ve had dinner at your home or your paying clients or past clients, you’re a coach, the people you used to coach who you were part of their life for a year on that monthly call. Those people probably need to hear from you. If you narrow it down to, “Who are my 150?” You could follow up with all of them every month by doing 3 to 5 a day.

In 30 days, that could be 150.

Some people might say, “My list is smaller.” Some people list is bigger, then put a little thing, who are my 150 favorite people? Those are the people who need to hear from you and to get that email saying, “I was thinking about you and I care.” Those are the people who are going to say, “Wow.” A lot of people scrape emails from the National Speakers Association and they think they’re so smart because they’ll email like, “I have this product I sell to speakers.” We all go into back-channel talk going. “Does anybody hear from this?” “I never heard from him before.” “I got the same email now.” We know when it’s a random thing trying to sound personal. You scraped my email off a website, I get it.

However, if I know you or you’re one of my college fraternity brothers and you reach out and say, “I realized that the speaking and meetings business has been hit harder. I was thinking about that. You’re my only friend as a professional speaker. My heart goes out to you. I hope your family’s okay.” Am I going to stop and feel as a human? Yes and that happened. The fraternity brother I haven’t talked to in years said I was reading something about what’s happened to the meetings industry. “You make your living speaking. I had never thought about that. You’re the only person I know who makes their living that way. I want you to know I care.” That’s what we need more of.

It’s because there is a way in the old world. When we didn’t have so much contact with each other, through social media, email, and all of that stuff, we used to write letters. We used to send each other notes. When the phone came along, we used to make phone calls. A lot of that has gone away for a lot of reasons. Part of it is we’re overwhelmed with all the things that we’re supposed to be doing and that’s expected of us socially. The other piece is we’ve also got comfortable not having to do those things. Some of the things that I’m loving it. I’m getting personal cards from people with pretty pictures that make me feel good, the phone calls, and the texts. These sorts of things, “Moneeka, I was thinking about you.”

The handwritten note is valuable. Imagine if a client’s got a handwritten note that said, “I want you to know that I’m here for you when the world returns to normal.” It is not trying to sell anything, just helping and checking in. Helping and checking in is the new selling. If you want to be remembered when the economy comes back, don’t be cramming down by my coaching program. I have been doing that, but I want to go back to something you said because it’s a perfect analogy. Let’s go back 15, 20 years before we had email and before everything was a broadcast. We used to have broadcast companies like CBS and NBC and the radio stations. Humans had to be personal because we couldn’t broadcast to everybody, but there was one-way people did use to broadcast and that was The Christmas Letter.

You will get a Christmas card and somebody had typed out a letter, “Dear blank,” and they would handwrite your name into it. They then would photocopy both sides, maybe with some clip art of a Santa Claus and a tree. They would go through and they would broadcast their year. “We were so fortunate. We went to the Grand Canyon. My husband won the trip to Hawaii and we got to go there. Our room had a view of the diamond bed.” Who loved getting Christmas letters? Not very many people because they weren’t personal. They never talked about your true life. It would say like, “This year, my son Johnny found a way to get free lodging.” That translated to Johnny’s in prison, but nobody ever wrote that Johnny was in prison and they flowered it up. Johnny’s got free lodging for 3 to 5.

I still do get Christmas letters. It is rare. I get three a year. What’s comical about that is, in the old days, I used to be like, “I felt like I was reading a report.” I had to read everybody’s stories so that I could keep up with everybody. It felt like an obligation.

It is a form of novelty, that handwritten note that says, “Hey.” Even if it’s a typed email that says something personal, I can tell if something is cut and paste. I was at a conference one time and while on the plane, I was sitting with a bunch of people from the conference and all of us got emails at once that said, “Dear insert name,” The mail merge didn’t work. They sent a 1,000 people a note addressed to dear insert name. In the middle of it, it said, “As you know, insert a name.” They had too many mail merges to make it sound personal and all it did was prove that it wasn’t personal at all because the mail merge failed. Let’s go back to the real thing, “Dear Moneeka, it was so much fun to be with you in San Diego, sharing the cab to the airport and having dinner together before our flights. I laughed so hard. I hope we can stay in touch.” It means so much more than some mass-produced broadcast.

REW 3 | Social Tightening

Social Tightening: Long before COVID-19 forced us to stay at home, 20% of our population was already feeling lonely.


It is like, “It is nice to meet you at the New Media Summit. You were light in the room. I look forward to keeping in touch.”

I got to paste that to everybody.

I got about 50 of them.

You were the light in the room, maybe all of those were personal. I got them too. I thought I was the light in the room.

I am jealous. I have to share the stage with you. That’s such good tips. Let’s talk a little bit about some connecting inside our homes. This is what’s happening. We’re all stuck together. We look at each other and initially, we’re like, “I get all this time with you. This is amazing.” By now, we’re like, “Could you go to another room?”

There is a woman who posted a meme that says, “This man is the love of my life. I now want to kill him.”

It doesn’t mean that we all love each other. It’s just we’re wanting to get back to our more normal rhythm, but because we’re in the same space, that does not mean we’re connecting. Let’s talk about how to connect and how to disconnect? How to create the space and then how to create the love? It’s like a dance where we have to create this wave in and out. Talk a little bit about that.

I am talking from personal experience. I have two daughters. One of them is out of college and engaged to be married and lives in Chicago. She and her fiancé were supposed to be married on May 16. That date has been changed, thanks to Coronavirus. Their wedding is temporarily postponed. In addition to spending fourteen months of their lives planning a dream wedding, they are sequestered in a 700 square foot apartment in a high-rise where there are no common areas open. You have to stay in your own apartment and a city there in Chicago on full lockdown. My future son-in-law, his job has moved home. He has an important job and he’s working 8 to 10 hours a day. My daughter has to stay out of his way because he’s got to use this brain for what he’s working on. He’s a mathematician.

She has got 100 square feet to hide and her job has been canceled. One of the things we did is every week, we’ve been having a Zoom dinner with them. We open up a Zoom room. They come in, they make dinner. We are ready at 6:30 and the five of us sit down and have dinner together. That has been a great way to keep in touch with extended family. In fact, I’m wondering why we haven’t done this forever. We get to have a meal. We, as humans, we love to break bread and we’re able to talk and laugh. My wife, my younger daughter, and my son-in-law say, “It’s just like dinner around the table because my oldest daughter and I are big talkers and they can’t get a word in edgewise.”

They said, “It’s like being in a restaurant with you. Thom and Jackie are stealing the conversation.” I’m not sure I’m proud of that, but that’s what they said. It was real is the point within our mini-society here inside the house. With our eighteen-year-old, I have a high school senior. I have commented that at least she likes her parents because we are on lockdown, but my wife and I are very different. We both still have some semblances of jobs we have to run. We both work for ourselves. We’re not sure how much money we’re making, but we’ve got things to do, but we operate differently. I go into my office. She has her office. She has taken to wearing headphones and listening to music or a book on tape when she’s not working. If she doesn’t want me to be like, “I thought that, that, that.” I’m much more of an extrovert and she is much more of an introvert.

We’ve agreed if she needs introvert time, were headphones and music, or whatever because otherwise, I’ll come in and start going, “Guess what I just read online.” We’ve set up that parameter, but being an extrovert, I can’t go forever without human contact. I’ve been hosting a happy hour in my Zoom room. I’ve been inviting people to come, get their beverage of choice, and log on with me in Zoom. I’ve been hosting anywhere from 8 to 12 people. I do a little bit of standup comedy and so in Austin, I’ve been hosting the only ongoing virtual open mic night for the local comics. I get about eighteen people for an hour and a half every Tuesday night. What’s funny is a lot of them are young and single and live alone. They stay after it’s over. They’re like, “Do we have to hang up?”

Yes, I’m a grownup who wants to go to bed now because it is 10:30, but it’s just doing that. Within my daughter and my wife, we’ve sat down and had dinner together every night. We make dinner. I guess once we had a restaurant catered in, but every night we make dinner and everybody comes and sits at the table. Even if it’s twenty minutes, we have that human connection time. I think the long answer to your question, there’s a lot of ways to do it, but you have to have some structure and you have to appreciate, “She’s an extrovert. She needs to be left alone.” “He’s an introvert. He needs some human interaction, even if it’s his friends online.” “She’s eighteen. What a nightmare to be stuck with your parents for months.”

There is compassion for what everybody is going through. I have trouble with this and I’ve had to pay attention to this is dinner time with David. We used to go out to dinner. We created that as a pattern because when we would get home, he was interested in looking at the mail and I knew that there was all this cleaning that needed to do. There was all this stuff that distracted us. We started just going out to dinner every night, which was great.

That doesn’t sound bougie at all. We hit all the restaurants in Northern California. Only Sunday through Saturday.

Building relationships, both personally and professionally, doesn't happen by accident. You have to be intentional about it. Share on X

I am grateful for the life I’m allowed to live.

I was going to add in, when you don’t have to send two children to super bougie colleges, you can eat it as many restaurants as you want. I bet you and David couldn’t outspend the cost in decades of educating two children.

We are like it in what we’re able to do. We’re noticing it, and believe you and me. Where I was headed with this is that we’re at home, we have dinner time, and we are very committed to eating together. We’re both tempted to poke at the phones. We’re tempted to run over and do something in the kitchen or attempted to turn over the laundry. There are all these things. We have to force ourselves to sit down, even if we have nothing to say because we’re both exhausted from the day and be together.

It is funny because the first couple of weeks we were like, “This is so much fun. There was so much to talk about.” The next week, it was like, “Hey.” We’re starting to get back into that old world, like having a conversation over dinner when we didn’t have everything on our phone. Everything interesting was not on our phones. We found each other interesting. We are doing that again. It’s just funny how we evolve and to set expectations on how we’re going to connect. Sometimes people think, “Connections should be organic and fluid.”

If we left it to organic and fluid, then a lot of people would never find the business success that they find. Networking and building relationships that matter, both personally and professionally, doesn’t happen by accident. I speak at a lot of conferences and there’s a lot of meeting planners that say, “What are you doing to encourage great connections?” People come to conferences for two reasons. Remember when we used to go to conferences, people used to go into a ballroom, but the thing is sometimes meeting planners are like, “We’ve got a sponsor for an open bar.” Booze is not a network.

That is not a social lubricant like we think it is. In order to do this, you have to learn the number one thing I teach people is you ask other people questions and then listen when they talk. I know that sounds shocking, but it does. Within your family, we establish this years ago when the cell phone, the smartphone first came out and that was no phones at the table. Whether we’re in a restaurant or we’re in our house, no screens at the table have been a family motto. I’ll be honest, we’ve been a little bit lax because we are around each other all day. At dinner, if somebody was to pick up a phone, we probably wouldn’t go, “No screens at the table.”

No screens mean just no phones, no iPods, no laptops, no TV, nothing.

We’ve had the TV on during dinner more than usual, but it is a new rule. My 23 years old was commenting that we were letting the eighteen-year-old have a glass of wine. She’s like, “That’s different rules than when I was a high school senior.” I was like, “Coronavirus.”

The main point is to understand that it’s not just that in business that we have to pay attention to building relationships, in our personal lives, we do too. It’s more important than ever because we’re spending so much time together. We are spending time together does not mean connection. It’s not quality time necessarily. Most of the time, it’s just time. We need to figure out how to have that quality interaction within our own homes, in our environment so that we can stay connected. Otherwise, what will happen is that you’re going to be surrounded by all these people that you love and you’re going to go back to feeling lonely, separated, and isolated.

You feel lonely in a group. It happens all the time.

It is because people aren’t connecting.

The other thing we have to do is realize different people are going through different things. As a person who travels 100-plus nights a year, being home for months on end, there’s like this, “I’m going a little bit stir crazy.” Whereas my wife, who’s a pretty serious introvert. Having me gone 100-nights a year is causing her to go a little bit stir crazy because I’m right there. I don’t pick up after myself the way it wouldn’t happen if I was gone. I think you have to take into effect, how is this affecting her? Not just me. We also have a high school senior. The news is not covering this well enough. There’s a couple of little stories here and there about brides getting married on their iPad, socially distance from their fiance.

My daughter and her fiancé chose to postpone until the fall, which hopefully it will happen then, but they’re not covering these major life events like weddings, high school graduations, and college graduations. There are many major life events that are being swept under the rug. I don’t think as a society, we’re giving them enough attention. In our house, I’ve tried to ask my daughter, “How are you feeling about this? How are you about this?” She got accepted into her first-choice college. She has a Facebook group with some other students who are new.

She has this community and it’s been a little exciting. She’s making some new friends there, they’re doing some Skype, and some Zoom and stuff like that, but I’m like, “How do you feel at school doesn’t start in the fall?” Her answer was, “We’re not talking about that yet. We’re not going there.” These are things that I don’t think as a society, we’re doing a good enough job of saying, “I have to work from home. My speaking events are canceled. My income is cut to nothing.” There’s a lot of that being covered out there, but there’s not a lot about, what about these people who have nonmonetary major life events? How are we honoring these people? I don’t know that we’re doing a good job of it.

REW 3 | Social Tightening

Social Tightening: You can feel lonely in a group. It happens all the time.


I don’t know if you know this, but I have two sets of my show. There’s the free show, which is this piece and then we’ve got EXTRA. There’s another article I want to talk to you about an extra. We’re going to finish the show in a moment, but I’m going to spring this on you and let my audience know what’s coming next.

I love things that are extra.

In EXTRA, I want to talk about the article that you wrote and I’ll admit, I haven’t read it, but it is about if you’re wealthy, how to be compassionate for those who are not. I’m excited about that topic. We’ll talk about that next, but first, let everybody know how they can get in touch with you and hear more of your amazing advice.

ThomSinger.com or Thom Singer on all the social media.

Thank you, Thom. This conversation has been wonderful. It’s filled me up. Thank you so much for joining us. Ladies, thank you for joining Thom and me for this portion of the show. If you are subscribed to EXTRA stay tuned. We’ve got more. If you’re not, please do go sign up at RealEstateInvestingForWomenExtra.com. If you’re leaving us, thank you so much for joining us. I look forward to seeing you on the next show. Until then, remember, bliss is your birthright. Choose to live your bliss every single day. I’ll see you next time. Bye.


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About Thom Singer

Thom Singer is an advisor to executives, a speaker and content creator. After a successful career in sales and marketing, he became a growth leadership speaker in 2009. A decade later he has brought his high energy presentations and action-oriented content to over 950 audiences.

He is the author of 12 books and is the host of two podcasts, “Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do”  and “The Digital Enterprise Society Podcast”.  On these shows he has interviewed over 550 business leaders and others with a focus on discovering how the most successful people get farther across the gap between potential and results.

He and his wife make their home in Austin, Texas and are the parents of two highly-spirited daughters.

We talk about what Thom calls Social tightening…it’s important, no matter whether we are social distancing, networking, or building a business, to remember that we always need to stay connected.  Thom gives us some great ideas on how we can do that effectively and lovingly.


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