Imagine you just started working for a new company with a great reputation and work culture. You are excited to be a part of the new team and can’t wait to get to know your co-workers, you are enthusiastic to share your innovative ideas and feel included only to be let down when that sense of belonging was just not there despite your efforts.
Belonging is a basic human need whether we admit it or not.
“Belonging is, of course, that feeling of connectedness to a group or community. It’s the sense that you’re part of something… Belonging actually has to do with identification as a member of a group and the higher quality interactions which come from that. It’s the interactions over time which are supportive of us as full, authentic human beings.” Jeanine Stewart, the Neuroleadership Institute (Forbes).
Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs notes love and belonging as primary needs just after physiological and safety needs are met. “Belongingness refers to a human emotional need for interpersonal relationships, affiliating, connectedness, and being part of a group.” simplypsychology.org. When one does not feel that they belong, a sense of safety continues to be challenged. People cease trying to contribute when inclusion does not happen.
Connection Creates Belonging.
“Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” Dr. Brené Brown
It is not a one-way street. On the part of the individual, it requires vulnerability, courage, and resilience to speak up and contribute; to share ideas, and participate in a group. The challenge is increased when individuals are judged or ignored because the sense of safety is challenged and belonging does not take place. If the situation never changes, it is exhausting and drains energy and creativity.
The other side of the street requires of the leader and/or established group openness, curiosity, and genuine interest in the individual and in neurodiversity, “the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one “right” way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits.” What is Neurodiversity?” Harvard Health Publishing
Here are 6 tips for leaders to establish a greater sense of belonging:
- Listen fully with interest to hear the other person without judgment. The emphasis is on “with interest.” As Stephen Covey put it, “with the intent to understand.”
- Understand differences among the personalities, behaviors, and experiences of the individuals on your team. Needs may vary as much as each of these areas of difference.
- Build trust through integrity, transparency, and effective communication.
- Check your assumptions, biases, stereotypes, and prejudices.
- Be aware of microaggressions that stem from assumptions, biases, stereotypes, and prejudices.
- Practice Conscious Inclusion: ASK:
- Who else?
- Who needs to weigh in and be heard?
- What else?
- What perspectives, experiences, are needed?
- How else?
- Actions, talents, skills that can provide a solution.
- Who else?
Creating belonging on a team takes effort because human nature is geared toward habitual thoughts and behaviors. A strong sense of self-awareness and emotional intelligence are the precursors to changing habits that inhibit creating a culture of belonging. Situations like the above scenario were occurring pre-pandemic and continued during remote work. As businesses move toward returning to work, whether hybrid, remote, or full in-person, the need for engaging with your team and empowering them is greater than ever. It will not be a one size fits all mindset that helps create a new and inclusive culture.