I’m excited to bring you this interview with Ryan Jenkins, one of the authors Connectable: How Leaders Can Move Teams From Isolated to All In. Ryan Jenkins is one of the cofounders of LessLonely.com, the world’s #1 resource for addressing workplace loneliness and creating more belonging at work. He’s helped organizations like FedEx, Coca-Cola, The Home Depot, Salesforce, Wells Fargo, State Farm, John Deere, and Delta Air Lines improve their teams. And in today’s interview, he’ll be sharing some fascinating data on the real impacts of loneliness, and some practical ways we can all rediscover and amplify our feeling of connection.
Let’s start with a basic definition of loneliness
[Loneliness is] “not the absence of people, it’s the absence of connection. So listeners can probably relate. You’ve been in a crowded office and perhaps felt feelings of isolation or alienation because you didn’t have strong connections with those people. Conversely, if you were working remotely and you have really strong connection to your team members and the leader and the work itself…you might not experience that same level of alienation or isolation as that person in the crowded office.”
So if you’ve ever been surrounded by people yet felt totally alone and not sure why—there’s your answer. The question, therefore, isn’t “how do I be around more people?” but rather “how do I feel more connected to the people I’m already around, whether in-person or virtually?”
Why is connection so important to our overall wellness?
Ryan cited a few of his favorite studies which are referenced in the book. In one, researchers studied “what happens to the body when we experience exclusion…Our brain lights up and it’s the same part of our brain that registers physical pain. So when you’re experiencing exclusion or isolation, your body is treating it like flight or flight.” It would be like heading into the office while you’re fevered or bleeding, and expecting to feel like your regular self. No one does their best work in this state!
In a second study, researchers asked subjects to imagine they were going to climb a hill. Shown a picture, participants were asked to estimate the steepness of the hill. People who were asked to climb the hill with a group estimated its steepness to be 30% lower than those who believed they would have to climb the hill alone. In other words, tasks look 30% more difficult when we believe we have to do them alone.
So is the answer to connection better communication?
“I think too often people lump [connection] in with communication. But communication and connection are very different things. Communication is dealt, connection is felt. So communication is what we’re doing now more than ever. All these video conferencing tools and email and texts and…we are communicating now more than ever. We have all these tools, but in reality that’s just communication.”
But this isn’t connection, he explains. We experience communication and connection in totally different parts of the brain. The transference of information isn’t the goal. We need to focus on helping people feel seen and experience belonging.
How can we create these connective experiences?
- Create psychologically safe spaces in which people’s opinions are welcome, voices are listened to, and big ideas or even “dumb” questions can be spoken.
- Understand people experience connection in different ways, and just legislating that everyone be in the office on certain days doesn’t necessarily drive connection. Make together time meaningful—and also give people the autonomy they need to manage their whole lives.
- We can all use social media more intelligently. It’s gotten a bad name, but if we use it to truly stay in touch with people in our lives, use it as a means of proactively connecting, we’ll all be better off.
Listen to my full conversation with Ryan using the player at the top or right here:
I hope you enjoyed it. Learn more about his work at lesslonely.com, and pick up a copy of his book, coauthored with Steven Van Cohen, Connectable: How Leaders Can Move Teams From Isolated to All In.