by Ron Potter

A recent EY study looked at the power of belonging at work.  Human beings have a great need to be part of a group.  We can look all the way back to ancient tribes to see this need to belong.  We all want to belong to a family, a community, a place of worship, a team.

Whatever the group is, we want to belong and be accepted.

Virtual World

In today’s virtual world, this has become more difficult.  Almost every client I’m working with is asking about how we feel more connected in this virtual world.  Our virtual meetings tend to be focused on the task at hand with little time for socializing or getting to know each other on a personal level.

One of my clients was recently struggling with this issue because he was part of a global team that had no opportunity to be together face-to-face.  In fact, he was gaining the reputation of being a hard charger who needed to be in control of the situation and the project.

Then recently the global team had the opportunity to be personally together at a team meeting in Europe.  He was thrilled with the opportunity and the outcome.  Because they were all face-to-face he had the opportunity to shake hands, look others in the eye, and socialize after work getting to know each other personally.

When the meeting was over he felt much more connected and had an increased sense of belonging that he had not experienced during the virtual meetings over the last year or two.

The Art of the Check-in

The EY study suggested several tips for building relationships regularly.

  • Seize the small opportunities to connect
  • Check bias at the door
  • Assume positive intent
  • It’s OK to be vulnerable
  • Be consistent and accountable

Seize the Small Opportunities to Connect

Connection is much more difficult in the virtual world so it must be accomplished intentionally.  It’s really impossible to accomplish this during team meetings. I have found that you must be intentional about expecting people to get together one-on-one (even virtually) and spend the time getting to know each other as human beings.  These meetings are not intended to work on tasks but simply to build relationships.

Ask questions like:

  • How are you doing?
  • How can I support you?”

You must genuinely be interested in their answers which means that you must listen with the intent to understand.  Truly understand.  Ask clarifying questions that help you understand where the other person is coming from and the perspective they’re using to view the world.

Years ago there was an elderly woman in our church.  If you asked her how she was doing her answer was “I’m doing fine unless you’re really interested”.

Be Interested!  Get to know who they are and what makes them tick.  No judgment.  Just understanding.

Check Bias at the Door

We each carry our own biases.  We just don’t always see them.

By listening to the other person we can often discover our own biases.  It’s natural.  We all have biases.  But the more you are aware of what they are, the easier it is to understand the other person.

Assume Positive Intent

This one is more difficult than it sounds.  Even though we have biases, we tend to accept them as natural and overlook their impact.  But we often assume that the other person is speaking from their own bias and because it’s different than our own, we can easily fall into the trap of assuming they are not speaking with positive intent.

Again, the best way to overcome this issue is to listen with the intent to understand.  When the other person assumes we are truly trying to understand them and where they are coming from, they’ll begin to drop or admit their own biases and start speaking with positive intent.

It’s OK to be Vulnerable

It’s not just OK to be vulnerable, it’s a must.  If we are not vulnerable with the other person, our biases begin to take over and we are not speaking with positive intent.

If we want the other person to take on a positive intent role, we must do it first.  Be vulnerable.

Be Consistent and Accountable

We’ve all heard the old saying “Do as I say, not as I do.”  Once again it becomes a “you first” approach.

We must first be consistent.  People should see a consistent approach and demeanor no matter what the circumstances or who we are talking with.

Then be accountable.  People are often looking to shift the blame to another person or circumstance.  Don’t be that person.  Admit where you failed or made the wrong decision and be accountable for the results.  It’s the only way to be a great leader or a great teammate.

People Want to Belong

Every human being has the built-in desire to belong.  Belong to a tribe.  Belong to a community.  Belong to a team.

Humans without these positive options for belonging turn to belonging to a gang or a cult or a social media crowd.  None of these are positive in the long run and will eventually lead to destructive behavior for either the person themselves or society in general.

Help people belong.

Help them be welcome.

Help them feel listened to and understood.

It will be the best thing you can do for yourself, the other person, society as a whole.

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