Do you feel like there’s no one you can relate to at work, brainstorm with, or mull over a challenge? Whether working remotely or in the office, are you not sure how to connect with coworkers?
If you’re feeling lonely at work, you’re absolutely not alone. Research by management professors Constance Hadley and Mark Mortensen reported that 76 percent of executives had trouble making connections with colleagues. Other studies have shown that loneliness extends to all levels of the workforce.
Research also shows that feelings of loneliness can have a big impact on your work. People who feel lonely are often less engaged with tasks and projects, which can result in lower performance and productivity.
Loneliness, however, is not a permanent state. You can cultivate quality connections with your colleagues. The key is to adjust your assumptions and take the lead in building bonds. By proactively sharing more of yourself, you can build closer connections with your colleagues—and thrive.
Here are four suggestions to get started.
1. Take an honest look at how you view things
Loneliness can distort your perspective—and shape your behavior in a way that actually increases your isolation.
Research suggests that lonely people tend to view interactions through a negative lens, hyper-focusing on negative cues while ignoring positive ones. They tend to expect interactions to go badly and behave accordingly, leading others to perceive them as less approachable. It can become a vicious cycle, where other people’s hesitancy to connect only confirms the lonely person’s original negative outlook.
If you find yourself frequently feeling lonely, recognize that your thoughts about interactions with coworkers might be leaning negative. meQ has several activities that can help you cultivate a more positive outlook:
- Assume the Best helps you catch negative thoughts and purposefully look for positives.
- Avoid Assumptions helps you recognize when you’re making unknown assumptions about someone’s thoughts.
- Challenge Your Conclusions helps you reframe a negative overgeneralization to a more realistic perspective.
2. Open up and talk
Feeling more connected to your coworkers means letting them get to know you, says Anna Osborn, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “It’s all about peeling back the ‘onion’ of who you are as you share more about yourself, your experiences, and your goals,” she says.
You don’t have to start by sharing your innermost layers, she says; share an outside layer or two. Jones Loflin, workplace coach and trainer, suggests looking for opportunities to share windows into your personal life in daily conversations. For example, instead of telling a colleague that you had a great weekend, say, “My daughter and I played in a soccer tournament.”
When possible, pick up the phone or schedule a zoom call instead of sending an email or Slack message, says Loflin. While you might have meeting fatigue, opting for a voice-to-voice or face-to-face conversation fosters more natural, spontaneous talks. Back-and-forth discussions also create opportunities for laughter, camaraderie, and personalities to shine through.
3. Help others feel seen
We feel most connected to others when we’re truly seen, heard, and understood, says Loflin, and it’s important that we do the same for others. He encourages improving your listening skills by focusing “on the person, and not the content of the conversation.”
To do this, home in on the emotion you’re hearing, step back to identify the bigger issue, and ask better questions to delve deeper, says Loflin. “Even something like, ‘You sound really frustrated by what’s going on’ will cause the other person to know you have actually been listening,” he says.
4. Be kind to yourself
When we’re feeling lonely, many of us may blame ourselves. But this only compounds the negativity, making us feel worse and possibly more likely to isolate ourselves. A better approach? Practice self-compassion.
According to research conducted during the pandemic, workers with high levels of self-compassion recovered from bouts of loneliness faster than workers with low levels of self-compassion. More self-compassionate employees also reported fewer depressive thoughts.
To practice self-compassion, acknowledge your feelings of loneliness and the sadness or frustration you may be experiencing. Recognize, too, that your feelings are valid, and everyone feels lonely from time to time. For additional support, listen to this guided meditation, which will help remind you to take it easier on yourself—and others.