Beat Isolation with Acknowledgement
Updated: Apr 3
We live in a world plagued by isolation. The morning alarm starts a mad dash to complete an overflowing to-do list before we drop in bed for the night, only to repeat the process the next day. Despite our busyness, many of us spend a lot of time alone. We work from home or in cubicles where we clock hours in front of screens and behind ear phones. We text instead of call, and now rely on our mobile devices to do nearly everything for us from ordering our coffee to delivering our groceries. We have removed most points of routine human contact.
Our social lives often provide little relief from solitude. We silently consume endless entertainment online, “watching” others live seemingly happy and connected lives on social media. We feel left out. A study of Facebook users found that the amount of time spent on the social network is inversely related to how happy you feel throughout the day.
Even when we are around other people, we are not with them. Indeed, most of us know what it is like to feel lonely in room filled with people. Exhausted, we lack the energy to connect with others in a meaningful way. Stressed by the pressure of the day, we operate with tunnel vision and do not notice the person next to us. We are trapped in a bubble of isolation.
We treat other people as invisible because we are so wrapped up in our own dynamic. We miss the barista, the store clerk, our colleagues in the elevator or passing in the hall, our spouse, and even our kids! Our modern lifestyle does not foster relaxed moments of human connection. We are simply too stressed, too busy, and too addicted to technology. Unfortunately, this isolation is more damaging than we realize.
Isolation Is Killing Us
The evidence on social isolation is clear: human connection is essential for human well-being.
The devastating physical, mental, and emotional consequences of isolation are well documented. A lack of meaningful social interaction elevates stress hormones, disrupts sleep, compromises the immune system, increases inflammation, and leads to loneliness and depression. One recent study found that isolation increases the risk of heart disease by 29% and stroke by 32%.
It gets worse. Multiple studies also demonstrate that a lack of social connection increases the odds of death by at least 50%. The increased mortality risk from isolation is comparable to the risk of smoking and exceeds the risk of obesity; in other words, obesity might be safer than disconnecting from your friends.
The good news? Strengthening social relationships can turn things around. For example, research shows that the one (and only) characteristic that distinguishes the happiest 10% from everyone else is the strength of their relationships.
Admittedly, social isolation is a complex problem that will not be solved with a three-step plan, but we must start somewhere. We can pop the bubble of isolation by choosing to practice the art of acknowledgement.
The art of acknowledgement is a quick but meaningful way to connect—if only for a moment—with the people around you. Here is how it works:
Step One: Make eye contact
Step Two: Smile
Step Three: Nod or greet (say “Hello!”) if appropriate
Sound easy? It is. We can always acknowledge others—no matter how busy we are. When we smile and make eye contact with another person, we are implicitly saying “I see you.” For a moment, we recognize that we are connected; we are not alone. This simple, but effective, act is a practical way to forge human connection and combat isolation daily.
Sound too easy to be powerful? Think again. A large healthcare organization, Louisiana Ochsner Health System, implemented as part of their Code of Civility, the “Ochsner 10/5 Way” that required employees to make eye contact and smile if they were within 10 feet of someone and say hello if they were within 5 feet. When the policy came into effect, patient satisfaction scores rose as did patient referrals—just from smiling and saying hello!
How does a simple act deliver such powerful results? Acknowledgment demonstrates respect and draws people to us. Consider just the power of smiling. A smile shifts how others see us, making us appear more likeable, courteous, and competent! Smiling lifts our mood, boosts the immune system, decreases stress, and lowers blood pressure. In fact, British researchers found that one smile can provide the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 chocolate bars by stimulating the brain’s reward mechanisms!
Acknowledging others lies at the heart of civility; it demonstrates that people matter. The next time you are standing in line somewhere or walking to your office, take a moment to acknowledge the people around you. We have a choice to make. In a single moment, we can lift people up or make them feel invisible. While your interaction may be brief and passing, the impact of your acknowledgment will be long and lasting. What will you choose?
Kim Purscell is a licensed etiquette instructor and protocol consultant, an accomplished speaker, and experienced business executive. Ms. Purscell’s passion is to help people move upward in the workplace by improving their professional image, behavior and communication skills; and empower clients to present themselves with power, confidence, and credibility anywhere in the world. Ms. Purscell can be reached at Kim@EtiquetteMatters.us