Cultivating meaningful connections with others in today’s high-tech, overworked and remote work culture will be one of the steepest and most important challenges we will face in the coming years.
To better understand the current and future frontier of relationship and how we can cultivate stronger friendships, I interviewed Jeremy Fojut, co-founder and CEO of LikeMinded.ai. Like|Minded is an AI-based workplace connection platform that aims to use neuroscience and friendship science to spark meaningful relationships.
Ryan Jenkins: What are some common misconceptions about human connection?
Jeremy Fojut: A common misconception is the difference between loneliness and chronic loneliness. It’s normal to sometimes feel lonely for short periods of time, but when those periods of time become longer and you have a constant and unrelenting feeling of being alone and an inability to connect on a deeper level, even when surrounded by people , i.e. chronic loneliness.
Many more people are now suffering from chronic loneliness due to the pandemic, but do not realize it because they do not understand the nature of the disorder.
Another big misconception I see in the workplace is assuming that all people connect the same. Some returning-to-the-office employers are trying to get employees involved in the same type of “forced fun” events that happened before the pandemic, e.g. happy hours, outings, picnics. While these activities may be fun for some, they often don’t feel that way for the majority.
Jenkins: What’s Contributing to Rising Loneliness Around the World?
Fojut: Obviously, the pandemic has greatly contributed to the increasing disconnection and social isolation we are seeing around the world, but the truth is that loneliness was on the rise around the world before the pandemic. The rise of social media and other online platforms that divide and alienate us creates disconnection while masquerading as the opposite. We’re losing our foresight – we use phones and WiFi to make every decision in our lives, and we no longer get that serendipity that leads to human connection like we used to.
Even urban infrastructure can contribute to our loneliness. The way we’ve designed cities means we spend more time alone in the car, having fewer micro-interactions with strangers and acquaintances. The growth of shipping culture will continue to encourage fewer connections as well.
Jenkins: How does disconnection affect people’s health and well-being?
Fojut: Disconnection and loneliness have a huge impact on people’s health – both physical and mental. Isolation can cause or worsen mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse.
But there are changes in your physical body as well. Studies show that social isolation is associated with changes in brain structure and cognitive abilities and carries an increased risk of dementia in the elderly. Heart failure patients who are socially isolated have a 68% increased risk of hospitalization and are almost four times more likely to die. And according to the National Institute on Aging, the health risks of chronic isolation are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
People who are separated from others are at real risk of negative effects on their physical, psychological and emotional well-being.
Jenkins: What do you recommend people do to spark more connections in work and life?
Fojut: In the workplace, companies should start peer relationship programs (also known as buddy programs) and mentoring programs. I would also focus more on building different accountability cohorts that focus on personal goals within the company.
It’s also important to find ways to have more face-to-face dialogue with people, whether that means meeting friends or colleagues for coffee, holding more in-person meetings and fewer phone calls, and planning quarterly team events. Keeping the lines of communication open in all aspects of life is key – it can be really easy to isolate ourselves, but our work and mental health are greatly improved when we make a concerted effort to reach out and engage with others beyond phone screen or social media app.
To connect in a more personal way, I would set a monthly goal to step outside of your comfort zone. We tend to be creatures of habit. Every month I have a series of things I want to do that are not part of my routine. After all, you will connect with new people and learn interesting things.