You May be Communicating, but are You Connecting?

It may sound cliché, but who doesn’t want to go where “everybody knows your name.”

I’ve regularly visited the same coffee shop for more than 15 years – and I don’t even like coffee. Everyone behind the counter greets me warmly as I order my favorite iced tea. And it’s not just me. They welcome everyone who walks in the door. Who doesn’t want to visit this place?

What’s the draw? I feel seen.

I recently took a personality-type assessment that actually said I would benefit from doing work in a coffee shop because of the typical energy there. I must have known that intuitively. I can attest to the truth of this for me.

So, I spend several hours at this homey place on the occasional day. I’ve struck up many connections with other regulars, especially those who are also self-employed. It’s not surprising this warm, welcoming place has become a dynamic, ad hoc co-working space.

Because working for yourself can be lonely.

That said, work can be lonely when you are surrounded by co-workers too.

You may talk, text, email, i.e., interact, with many people daily, but interaction alone is not a remedy for loneliness. Connection is.

Research shows that lack of connection is a bigger risk to our long-term health than obesity or smoking. It’s not just about our obvious physical health, but also our overall well-being.

Loneliness at work is a thing.

Studies show that loneliness at work is a legitimate issue. It can show up as feeling like you can’t be yourself; not knowing if anyone really has your back; not feeling like you belong or matter. (Thank goodness for my coffee shop buddies.) It impacts one’s mental disposition as well as health. Researchers have also correlated loneliness at work to a drop in performance. We shouldn’t be surprised.

Whether you are feeling lonely yourself or observing someone you think might be lonely, there is hope. If it’s about a desire for connection, you can make this happen in a work-appropriate way.

Connection can look like:

  • being more straight-forward in our responses, or more thoughtful
  • running our ideas by the people our decisions affect
  • showing sincere interest in what motivates others and incorporating that into your work together

You may be the first one to take a step. Anyone can lead.

Some may be perplexed with your behavior. Others may be relieved. You may find you have more in your tribe than you realize.

Connection is key.

How much of our true/real/human selves we are willing to share with or give, another? Our authentic thoughts, intentions, and reactions are a gift to others. This often happens only with those in our true inner circle. What if we expand that a little for the sake of connection?

It may all start over a cup of coffee.


Mary Schaefer
Mary Schaefer
Mary is a fierce advocate for developing workplaces where the human beings who happen to be employees, thrive. Her speaking, coaching, training, and writing all focus on making the most of what human beings can contribute to an organization through their distinctive energy and creativity, while at the same time meeting their own specific needs for meaningful work. As the principal of her own business, Mary is a guide to increase empowerment and cultivate productive manager/employee interactions. Drawing from her experience as an HR manager, her work centers on talent development, performance management, and a positive employee experience. She is a co-author of the book, "The Character Based Leader." Mary has presented at the Inspiring Women in STEM Conference and is also a TEDx speaker. Her clients include small businesses, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and Fortune 500 companies. Mary has a master's degree in human resources management and is a certified HR professional. This Midwest farmer's daughter is a big fan of homegrown cantaloupes, gapingvoid art, and LinkedIn.

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  1. Thank you for this thoughtful article on the importance of human connection, Mary. With technology often being our primary tool for communication connecting in meaningful ways can be a challenge. There’s nothing like in person presence, conversation, hand shakes, hugs, smiles, laughter with people in our lives both personally and professionally.

    Your article makes me think of the quote by the Dalai Lama: “A heart full of love and compassion is the main source of inner strength, willpower, happiness, and mental tranquility….we cannot survive without human affection.” Being seen, heard, and valued in person remains an irreplaceable vital human experience.

    • “Being seen, heard, and valued in person remains an irreplaceable vital human experience.” Beautifully put, Laura.

      You remind of a statistic I ran across recently. “According to a study in the Harvard Business Review, one face-to-face interaction is more successful than 34 emails exchanged back and forth.”

      There’s something about “seeing” each other. It’s beyond the productivity aspect one could take-away from this stat. With human-to-human interaction we just “get” each other at another level that transcends words, with that presence you describe. We shouldn’t be surprised, right?

      Thank you for commenting!

    • Right on Laura! Point of note… two people can become extremely connected even when the do not share the same physical space. For centuries people wrote letters and experienced incredible human connection sometimes even moreso because the written word can have advantages over the spoken word. While in-person is wonderful, it is not always a requirement for connection.

  2. Great article, Mary – and timely also. You provide some valuable insight into connection and the value it holds in our work life. You also give some easy ways to combat the loneliness we can feel in our work environment. I love where I work, but I must admit that, at times, I experience loneliness. It’s a switch for me because I’ve not experienced this at work before. But, I suppose that there is a first time for everything.

    Fortunately, I’m carving a path and taking the lessons in stride. Without knowing it until I read your article, I’ve been “showing sincere interest in what motivates others and incorporating that into your work together. The result is that I feel more connected and it fosters a better working relationship.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. A great read as always.

    • Wow. Thanks Laura for offering us your first-hand experience and success in countering workplace loneliness. You bring up the thought for me – I wonder if some people would even recognize their unrest as loneliness. Hmmmmm. I don’t know that I would have thought ti call it loneliness without having run across the concept several months ago. Thanks again for commenting!

  3. Very interesting article with some sage advice. I have known some people that were so unhappy with life that they were miserable at work and perhaps even lonely. Sometimes they escaped into work and become super stars. The corporate world puts so many restrictions on what you can say to someone that works for you other companies go out of there way to help. I often feel that I I know how to help someone be successful at work but i am more of an introvert outside of work. Thank you for a great article with some very help advice.

    • Larry, thank you so much for your comments. I know the corporate world can feel restrictive in how we interact. It requires thought. At the same time we can show we care about someone’s well-being and success (as you mentioned) in work-appropriate ways. I’m glad you found the article helpful.

  4. You are SO talking my language, Mary!

    While I’m a true introvert and usually very happy on my own, I also do enjoy some people time each week. Your coffee house sounds like a perfect place to feel seen / heard / visible, something most of us want at least some of the time. And at work, I would definitely not be looking to connect; work is another place altogether. So much goes on that tempts some to maybe not act as we would like … I always kept my counsel when I worked at companies.

    And I have been seeing many articles on older folks who are just existing because they don’t have easy ways to get out, may not drive anymore, and may have already lost friends to an early death. So sad! Losing that human connection, especially as we age and may not have enough to do with ourselves, certainly can cause some to die much earlier than they would have needed to.

    Terrific article, and thanks!

    • I’m so glad this post spoke to you, Susan. I too consider myself an introvert and have found that over time I need more people time. Depending on how one is self-employed, it can feel lonely.

      I hear what you are saying about keeping your own counsel in the workplace. One must use discernment. I do have to counsel some of my clients on how to make connection, but in a work-appropriate way. It’s a fine line to walk.

      Reading your comments on loneliness as we age reinforces with the importance of making connections that sustain. As the article states, there are some serious consequences that come with loneliness.

      Thanks for commenting!

  5. Welcome Mary! You have a really thoughtful read here. I immediately thought of a LinkedIn connection and friend I have who uses #chai as part of his branding. It is genuine. He is often seen drinking chai, I know he goes into coffee shops observes and asks for opinions (ordering chai), he has participated in co-working spaces where sharing a coffee at breaks strikes up many similarities and reveals characters. And I too, I really work with connection with people I meet – just striking up that initial conversation has landed me some gold in friends. With the world today, connection may seem like work – but showing sincere interest in others that you stated goes such a long way. Thank you so much for the time you put into those piece. My best to you on BizCatalyst!

    • Thanks for your comment, Maureen. I love that your friend brands himself with #chai. That’s fun, and definitely a conversation-starter. What an easy way to pave the way to connection. And as you demonstrate with your experiences in striking up conversations, there are opportunities all around us to connect and increase well-being. Thanks for commenting!