APS Member/Author: Adam Grant
As an introvert, I thought I was immune to loneliness. I’ve been working remotely as long as I’ve been working. I enjoy the comfort of writing at home, the efficiency of not commuting and the freedom from interruptions by extroverted colleagues.
But in my first year of graduate school, I was struggling to get my papers accepted by journals — and to feel accepted by my new classmates. In the middle of the cold, gray Michigan winter, my roommates went home for the holidays, and I felt completely isolated.
It’s often said that extroverts get their energy from people, while introverts are energized by solitude. The data show that’s a myth. In a pair of studies, people rated their energy hourly or weekly. Extroverts felt more energized when they were being talkative and outgoing — but introverts did, too. Then, in an experiment, people were randomly assigned to act like extroverts or introverts in a group discussion. Acting extroverted energized even the introverts.
Being introverted has nothing to do with liking alone time. It turns out that the desire for solitude comes from a different trait altogether: independence.
The good news is that it doesn’t take a village to fight loneliness. My colleague Sigal Barsade has found that it takes just one friend to feel less isolated at work. It doesn’t require a long interaction, either. My mentor Jane Dutton has spent years studying high-quality connections, and she finds that even brief encounters can leave us feeling seen. As Dr. Dutton put it recently on WorkLife, “Forty seconds of interaction — a positive, caring interaction — has measurable impacts on both people.”
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