Shortly, it will be the season for company-wide and team end-of-year gatherings and celebrations. An opportunity for people to come together less formally. And yet, the outcome for some of us is that we feel more excluded than included. How does this happen?
It seems very timely to discuss the topic of inclusion and its opposite; exclusion.
Inclusion is more than simply a word. Inclusion requires us to be able to be more open minded, demonstrate high levels of self-awareness and to choose behaviours that are inclusive. This all sounds like common sense, right? Not so fast, because our brain works both for and against us.
If we look at inclusion and exclusion from a brain science perspective, there are some interesting and noteworthy observations.
Observation one – if we are not actively including people, we may be accidentally excluding them. This is important because, often, our intentions are not obvious. Behaviours we don’t intend to be excluding of others can be misinterpreted resulting in unintended consequences. This is often the result of our non-conscious biases.
Observation two – the brain processes physical and social threat in the same place. That’s why social exclusion actually hurts – it’s painful, and, social inclusion feels great – it’s rewarding. Everyone likes to be a part of the ‘in group’.
Observation three– feelings of exclusion can spiral quickly. The brain sees exclusion as a threat, and we have three to four times more ‘real estate’ in the brain to detect threats. So what may start as simply feeling awkward can quickly escalate to feeling anxious. And, emotions are contagious! It’s not automatic to be open minded to self and others when you are in a state of anxiety.
So, how do we work to actively include people rather than accidentally exclude them? Here are two steps to start.
A first step is to value difference. Truly value difference, not just say it. I know that sounds easy, actually it requires focused attention and consistent effort.
A second step is to actively be more inclusive – in spoken word and seen behaviours; in essence, generating an umbrella in group. In 1989, Vivian Paley, an Award winning teacher introduced a rule into her kindergarten classroom: “You can’t say you can’t play”. The effect of this seemingly simple mantra meant that being excluded or not allowed to play with others was banned.
So, some questions you might like to ponder over the upcoming break.
- How can you strengthen the great work that you have done across 2017 with your team?
- Where might you have been accidentally excluding people and perhaps not aware of it?
- How can you be more actively inclusive?
- What’s might be your work place equivalent ‘mantra’ to ensure that inclusion is more than simply a word?