All personality types face loneliness in Covid-19 times: Here’s why (with Adam Grant)

In these Covid-19 times, I have heard numerous entrepreneurs comment that “social distancing” is especially hard on extroverts, while introverts are thought to be “lucky” to thrive in reduced social connection with others.

But in an April 16th article in The New York Times, American organizational psychologist Adam Grant argues that such assumptions (about extroversion and introversion) are inaccurate. He writes: “It’s often said that extroverts get their energy from people, while introverts are energized by solitude.” But current research shows “that’s a myth.” Studies show that both extroverts and introverts feel “more energized “when they are “being talkative and outgoing” amongst colleagues, friends or family.

The wish for aloneness pertains to independence, not introversion

So being an introvert has nothing to do with wanting to be alone. Instead, the wish for aloneness comes from the personality trait of “independence.” People who are independent of others find “their behaviour, values and interests” align. These people are “resistant to pressure from others” and want to learn more about their own experiences and feelings. Those who possess autonomy enjoy solitude more than people who seek it out (Jarrett in Grant, 1). 

So, Grant writes: “Introverts crave connection” as much as extroverts do. “We just need more boundaries.”

Introverts need reduced stimulation

Introversion, he says, is about limiting sensory and/or psychological stimulation, especially from other people or settings that feel overwhelming. Introversion is not about whether a person needs others or requires solitude. (All humans are social beings and need both contact with others and time spent alone.) Introverts as well as extroverts can be lonely, but solitude for either personality type is only painful or problematic “when [they] want connection but can’t find it.”

Grant describes a time during his first year of graduate school when he struggled to get his papers published and to feel accepted by new classmates. During a “cold, grey Michigan winter,” he felt “completely isolated” when his roommates left on holidays. I remember a similar feeling of loneliness, myself.

Introverts, Grant asserts, are more sensitive to external, sensory stimulation than extroverts are. If exposure to others goes on for several days (e.g. at a conference or a family reunion), introverts start to feel more pain, “exhaustion and less authenticity.” Sensory overstimulation does not as frequently occur to extroverts. 

Although Grant does not refer to them in his article, there are also “ambiverts” who fall someplace between introverts and extroverts, along a continuum of identity and sensory receptivity.

Social interaction does not require long periods of connectedness

Curiously, Grant’s colleague, psychologist Jane Dutton, has found that quality interactions with other people do not require a lot of time. As little as “forty seconds— a positive, caring interaction—has measurable impacts on both people.” So we don’t need to devote hours in others’ company to overcome loneliness or isolation.

No one is immune to loneliness and psychologists in recent years have published much on the damaging effects it has on us. But Grant emphasizes that no huge effort is needed for people to shift from loneliness to connectedness.

For instance, online meeting platforms like Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, etc., although in some ways exhausting and limited, can still help introverts, ambiverts and extroverts to connect, even during times of a pandemic, when physical distancing is key to our survival.

And now it’s your turn: Do you agree with the insights Grant shares on personality types, loneliness and boundaries? How do they influence your daily life? Please reply on my “contact” page. I’d be delighted to extend this conversation.