The past two years have highlighted how important it is to feel we belong. Today we look at why belonging is so important, and 3 simple ways to increase this experience each day.

Our brains want to belong. In fact, they need to belong. Even the slightest sense of being overlooked or excluded can activate your brain’s threat circuitry to be on high alert for further evidence of being left out. It’s an uneasy experience that dilutes our focus and eats away at our mood.

After all, isolation is a form of punishment and torture! Our socially sensitive brains require enough regular experiences of connection, inclusion, and positive engagement with others to unleash our creativity and engagement and fuel our mental and physiological wellbeing.

Global research in social cognitive neuroscience has discovered there are six core conditions for optimum human performance, and collectively they form what is now known as psychological safety.  One of the six core conditions is the experience of empathy, namely connection, belonging, common ground, and trust.

3 ways to build belonging

  1. Find common ground

When we feel we have something in common with others, we process our interactions with them, in the same part of our brain that processes our own thoughts. On the other hand, when we do not know much about someone, we process our interactions with them in a different part of our brain, until we find something in common, for our brain to tag the person as ‘friend’. We are less able or willing to consider others’ points of view or empathize with their perspectives and ideas, until this ‘tagging’ has occurred.

Tip:  Include simple ice breaker activities and personal check-ins with employees before launching in to work-mode. This gives each person an opportunity to tag others as ‘like me’, as safe, and to feel like we in some way belong to the group.

  1. Don’t stop at diversity

Many companies are increasing the diversity on teams and changing their hiring and promotion decisions. However, a more diverse team can actually lead to a reduced sense of belonging, if leaders don’t careful create opportunities for shared interests, relationships and trust to grow. Diversity is a strategy. But inclusion is a set of behaviors. Increasing diversity, without then knowing how to successfully leverage differences, include newcomers and establish cohesion, safety and trust, can reduce belonging for all.

Tip: Learn how to lead and communicate in ways that foster empathy and sincere interest and concern for others wellbeing and success. Rather than stopping at ‘Where are you from?’ ask people ‘Where do you want to go?’ and actively support the cross-fertilization of hew knowledge and the sharing of different experiences on your teams.

  1. Promote personal goals

The past 20 months have given us the opportunity to experience a different way of living and working. We have a new sense of what we want and need to perform well, as an employee, as a parent, spouse and member of our community. We are looking for a new place to belong, or for reassurance that we still belong with our current employer, as we move out of the pandemic.

Tip:  Listen to what employees want and need in the ‘new normal’ and help them identify and find their place in new working routines and expectations. Share what is important to you also, to further build trust and relatedness. The more people feel heard and supported by their manager, and consulted in decisions about their daily lives, the more buy-in and engagement is reached.

Our next blog will look at optimizing daily performance in our screen-focused work-day.