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What an Introvert Learned When Researching Human Connection

Five lessons to reshape introverts' perspective on social connection.

Key points

  • A lack of connection, not people, leads to loneliness.
  • Loneliness shouldn't be shameful.
  • Most people wrongly predict that engaging with others won't be pleasant.
  • Solitude can be insurance against loneliness
dragana991 / iStock
What an Introvert Learned Writing a Book on Human Connection
dragana991 / iStock

It’s said that authors often write the books they themselves need to read. That was true for me.

As an introvert, I've spent the last four years studying human connection. My work focused on overcoming disconnection in a world of growing isolation. I surveyed over 2,000 global workers about their experience with loneliness at work and ways to cultivate more connection at work and in their personal lives.

This deep immersion into the science of loneliness and belonging woke me up to the significance of connection. Hopefully, you can leverage my journey, and your connection revelation will only take as long as it takes to read this article.

Here's what I learned about loneliness and human connection.

Lesson #1: Loneliness is not the absence of people but the absence of connection.

Someone can be in a crowded office and still experience loneliness. Conversely, a solo remote worker can be fully engaged in their work and not feel lonely. When a person is disconnected from themselves, their team or community, the culture, or the work they're involved with… loneliness can follow.

Loneliness is multi-dimensional and introverts can lessen loneliness by strengthening connections in other ways outside of other people.

Lesson #2: Our brain misleads us about human connection.

Loneliness doesn’t discriminate. Loneliness doesn’t know if you are at work or home, young or old, extroverted or introverted.

Researchers recently studied folks on trains, city buses, cabs, airports, and waiting rooms to measure if folks would have a better experience keeping to themselves or connecting with strangers. Every environment they tested had the same results: people were happier when they were connecting with others.

They also discovered that there was no difference between introverts and extroverts. Introverts enjoyed connecting with others as much as extroverts did. What tends to vary is their expectations. Introverts who expect not to enjoy a conversation will choose not to engage. However, on average, both felt happier when connecting with others.

Yet when surveyed before the study, most participants said they expected to have a worse experience when connecting with others. Most people wrongly predicted that engaging with others wouldn't be pleasant. Their brain, my brain, your brain misleads. We all crave connection.

Lesson #3: Loneliness isn’t shameful; it’s a signal.

People (and especially introverts) need to stop beating themselves up over their feelings of loneliness. It's normal. It's a universal human condition. In fact, it's useful.

The same complex homeostatic system in our brains that drives us to eat and drink is similar to what drives us to connect and converse. Akin to hunger, loneliness is our biological signal to seek connection. Hunger motivates us to eat. Loneliness motivates us to connect. It’s a motivational force to forge strong relationships. It’s our innate reminder that our presence matters to others. It’s proof we need each other.

Lesson #4: Aloneness can lessen loneliness.

I'm not antisocial. I'm pro-solitude. And turns out, solitude is insurance against loneliness.

The negative state of isolation is loneliness. The positive state of isolation is solitude. Solitude is a state of being alone without the emotions of loneliness. When we experience loneliness, we want to escape it as it is an unpleasant emotion. On the other hand, solitude is peaceful aloneness created by a state of voluntary isolation.

Solitude can take many forms such as self-reflection, meditation, mindfulness exercises, or a quiet break from the demands of life. Solitude offers the opportunity to connect inwardly with oneself. Emotional well-being, clarity, creativity, and perspective are some of the benefits of intentional and healthy solitude.

Loneliness carries the unfortunate stigma of shame. Conversely, solitude is held in high esteem. However, solitude seems to be more and more elusive in today’s distraction-prone world. But when solitude is fought for and done right, it helps to strengthen the connection with ourselves that in turn equips us to connect more deeply with others.

Lesson #5: Connections don't have to be continual to be beneficial.

As an introvert and highly ambitious person, I often didn’t make the effort to connect with people I knew weren’t going to be involved long-term in my life. A stranger in the elevator, a local barista, or an Uber driver never really got my full presence and attention. However, research proves that it only takes 40 seconds for loneliness to lessen during a two-person interaction.

Now that I am aware of how critical social connections are to my well-being and the well-being of others—and how little time it takes to garner a sense of connection—I make an effort every day, no matter how fleeting, to connect. I have personally experienced an elevated well-being and seen it in those with whom I interact.

So take it from the introverted connection author. No matter how hard an exterior you have, or how task-focused, introverted, or results-driven you are, at the end of the day, we pine for people. No matter the barriers we intentionally or unintentionally put between ourselves and others, life is better together.

Learn more science, statistics, and strategies for connection in my book, Connectable: How Leaders Can Move Teams From Isolated to All In.


Ryan Jenkins & Steven Van Cohen (2022). Connectable: How Leaders Can Move Teams From Isolated to All In. New York, NY. McGraw-Hill Education.

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