The U.K. has appointed a "Minister of Loneliness" to combat the effect of its citizens' sense of isolation in an increasingly technological world. This has led to snickering and derision in some quarters. The reason most think this funny or odd is that we don't realize the impact of loneliness on our lives.
As there is no readily observable link between loneliness and physical wellbeing we just assume one doesn't exist. Not true. One study has found that social isolation is a bigger risk factor for cardiac arrest than obesity or even a pack-a-day cigarette habit! Not only that, but the socially isolated also suffer from dementia, anxiety, and depression in far greater numbers.
As we move through life increasingly dependent on social media and technical means of communication, our interpersonal skills are withering on the vine. Reading body language has become more difficult than deciphering emojis. We can communicate with more people than ever before but we don't know what to say, and just as importantly, how to say it.
But what's all this got to do with success? Simple. We all know people whose success is baffling. They aren't the smartest, the hardest working, or even the best looking. Yet they rise to the top of their profession leaving in their wake those that seem far more qualified.
In nearly every case, the differentiating factor is (and I hate using buzzwords) "emotional intelligence." This is the general term that describes those with people skills, problem solving ability and a knack for knowing what to say, how to say it, and when to say it. The people that know how to deal with people are the ones that are consistently the most successful.
So how does one go about increasing their ability to deal with people? Aside from picking up your very own copy of "The Human Whisperer," the best solution is practice.
On a daily basis, we give up opportunities to make a connection. In trains, subways, buses, waiting rooms, and airplanes we are inches away from throngs of people but instead of engaging, we stick our head in our phone, tablet, or (far less often) a newspaper. This does not mean talk to everyone you meet, but work to turn an isolating experience into a social one by interacting with the person sitting next to you.
Your assignment for the next month is to speak with at least one person a week to whom you wouldn't normally say a word. It needs to be more than asking for the time. You need to engage in a conversation that lasts a few minutes at least. You will surprise yourself at how you feel afterwards.
Experiments show people rate solitude as what would make them happiest, but when they tried speaking with someone next to them, it was actually rated the more pleasurable experience by a large margin. This was true whether the initiator was outgoing, shy, introverted or extroverted. So not only can you improve your physical and psychological well-being, by engaging with others you're grooming yourself for success! Now get out there and engage!