7 Ways to Create a Culture of Belonging

I’m reading this book called No Hard Feelings, and it’s all about embracing emotions at work. Let me explain to you how I screwed up with this. Long ago, I worked in an animal shelter. I was concerned that I didn’t fit in with my boss or colleagues. When I don’t trust people, I don’t like to show them how I feel, in case they try to use it against me. So I would simply come to work with a blank face each day, sit down, and do my work and leave. My boss complained I had worked there for months and she didn’t really know me! And I didn’t see a problem with that, because I didn’t like the wage, or her, or that job. It was extremely depressing. So one day she just decided to fire me. Afterwards I wondered, “Will I ever be able to be myself at work?”

How about you?

Have you ever felt, “I can’t show anyone at this job who I really am?” or “I am too weird for my normal colleagues” or “I don’t fit in here?”

If you have, you’re not alone. It’s hard to know what emotions are OK to express at work. And how much to share.  One of the ways we might start to see that our culture is broken-is to look at emotional norms. For example, ask yourself, “What are some aspects of the emotional environment at this job?” Are you allowed to express conflict or disagreement with someone? Do people ignore each other in the hallways? Here are some ways to improve the emotional culture.

  • Try the 10/5 rule. If you get within 10 feet of someone, meet their eyes. If you get within 5 feet of them, say hello. Just that simple act can go a long way towards creating warm feelings with your team.
  • A culture of gratitude: Celebrate small acts of kindness. Thank people who do little things for you- and they will do more of them.
  • Acknowledge personal lives: If something is going on in your personal life, it’s ok to tell people “I’m having a hard time today” and leave early.

Recently we have been talking a lot about what happens when culture goes SOUTH in organizations. We’ve talked about sexism. We’ve talked about white fragility, and white supremacy and racism inside our organizations. But we also love talking about ways we can do better. And specific things we can do to be better.

If you’ve ever been in an organization that seemed to be comfortable for one kind of person (an abled, heterosexual white man, for example) and NOT for the kind of person you are, well, there are things everyone can do to create a culture of belonging.

How can we make space for people who are not from the dominant culture? How can we do better, as organizations, to help people want to stay and contribute to our missions?

How can we, in short, create a culture of belonging?

The way we send messages about who belongs, and who does not, can be turned around, and here are 7 ways to do it. Ready? Go!

  1. It means saying someone’s name, and asking how to pronounce it
  2. It means when someone gets talked over or interrupted, ask them to continue what they were saying
  3. It means when someone joins a conversation, take a moment to bring them up to speed.
  4. It means onboarding with culture buddies: Someone who can sit down with a new person and help answer their questions, give feedback, and hopefully help them fit in with the culture.
  5. It means watching belonging in meetings- assign a person to be an objective observer in meetings, noticing who speaks over others, group dynamics, who isn’t given time to speak, and at the end of the meeting, have them suggest ways to improve the group dynamics.
  6. It means assuming good intent when people mess up.
  7. Once a month grab coffee or lunch with a coworker you don’t get to see often, just to chat about their interests.

Dr. Tanya M. Odom recently talked about how to create a culture of belonging on our Name It! Podcast. You can listen to this episode in August.

In the meantime, here are more resources to create a culture of belonging.

Be a better ally with these clever responses to microaggressions!

Do you have other suggestions for how to create a culture of belonging?

Please leave a comment.

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