There is no denying that technology has provided a platform for social movements, open communication across work teams and regions, and a level of connectedness that would not be possible without it. Yet, in a world that is consistently and increasingly connected, reports of loneliness are on the rise, with approximately one in three adults reporting experiences of loneliness.
Loneliness occurs when we experience a difference between the number of meaningful relationships we desire, and those that we receive. Often, it is thought that people who experience loneliness are those that are alone, but as loneliness relates to the quality, not the quantity of our relationships, even the most socially-connected people can experience loneliness.
In a world that is more connected than ever before, how are more people feeling lonely?
From self-serviced check outs, to communicating with colleagues across the office via online channels, the rise of digitalisation has seen a decline in our day-to-day human interactions. It’s true that social networking is a great tool, however, there is a profound difference between interacting in person and online.
Face-to-face interactions provide us with vital information about context and meaning that we lose over written communication, and face-to-face interactions can also help us feel that our communication is meaningful and personal.
Technology has had a big impact on the quality of our face to face communication. Take a moment to think about your day to day interactions, particularly in the workplace. How many meetings do you attend, or conversations you have where people are engaging more with their phone or laptop than the people present. My estimate is that you could count the meaningful, “switched off” interactions on one hand.
When we think about engaging with technology in this way, we can start to understand why reports of loneliness are increasing. There’s no denying that technology has allowed us to connect more easily with others. However, as our workplaces and our lives become more digitalised, it is paramount that we connect with others on personal and meaningful levels.
So here are some tips on how you can connect more meaningfully with others:
When did you last have a meaningful conversation with a family member, friend or colleague? How often do you grab coffee or lunch with a colleague from a different department, or say hello to a stranger in the lift on the way to your office?
Take initiative and be the first one to start a conversation, check in with your network to find out what has been going on in their life, or simply smile and wish someone a nice day ahead, you never know the impact it may have.
When you’re in a meeting, where is your attention focused? Are you listening to what your client is saying, or focusing on your own agenda and what you’re going to say next?
Listening seems easy, we’re constantly doing it, whether actively or passively. However, often when we’re in a conversation with others we focus on what we’re going to say next and get easily distracted by our surroundings. Actively listening requires energy and practice but it is a powerful and important skill that allows meaningful connection with others. Clarify and ask questions if you don’t understand, limit distractions and allow room for silences.
When someone confides in you, how are you responding? If a colleague loses an important deal and is concerned about their upcoming performance review, what are you doing to help?
It’s ok not to have a solution to someone else’s problem, often people will find the most comfort in just having their experiences and emotions heard and validated.
Can you remember the last time you went anywhere without your phone? (on purpose anyway)
Going offline and having time to connect with yourself and with others is important. Try leaving your phone behind more often, close your laptop when you’re talking with your colleague or better yet, have an outside walking meeting.
Are you in the habit of checking your work phone or your emails after you clock off for the day or over the weekends?
When you leave work in the evenings, shut down your computer, turn off your notifications, put your phone on silent or switch it to ‘do not disturb’. Ensure you take some time to unwind and disconnect from work and connect with those people who give you meaning and a sense of belonging as this will also have a positive impact on your well being and ability to cope with stress.
For more information on this subject and to find out more about Psychology Week go to the Australian Psychological Society’s website.