Love the direction of travel of the conversations around diversity and inclusion towards conversations about belonging. Because that’s what it’s all about. Years ago, Maslow identified that once our basic needs for food and shelter are met, we each have this in-built desire to belong. Belonging is found in meaningful relationships, which fundamentally is about our one-on-one interactions with each other. It is in these individual interactions that inclusion or the lack of it is experienced.
If we feel considered when meeting locations or times are being set, expected to participate and share our opinions, noticed if we are absent, sought out for the team move to the pub after work or indeed, having the team choose to go somewhere else if a pub isn’t our thing, then we feel included. We feel like we belong at work. And if we don’t feel respected in this way, we feel like we don’t belong. Quite often it’s not the big obvious, illegal, discriminatory actions that cause problems. It’s the daily micro-exclusions – being missed out on the offer of a cup of coffee… again – that becomes the daily grind of an experience of not being included. And that hurts. Sometimes it hurts as much as physical pain.
If we can’t get coffee right, we won’t get promotions and career progression right either.
Getting inclusion and belonging wrong undermines teamwork, sabotages performance and cripples results. Real creativity and innovation can only happen when relationships are strong and respectful, and we are able to embrace different ideas and approaches, build on them and transform them into amazing outcomes. Success in the future of work will be built on relationships, effective collaboration and innovation. Artificial Intelligence will automate processes but people will still need to bring the emotional intelligence (especially the relational intelligence), recognised by the World Economic Forum as key for the future of work.
Yet nowhere are we taught how to do relationships well.
And we are living with the consequences. Relationship breakdown is the common theme running through much of the corporate concerns today around employee engagement, wellbeing and performance, and around workplace conflict. It is also the common thread through concerns in society around family breakdown, mental ill health, homelessness and suicide.
Recent research showed that high-earners are three-and-a-half times more likely to experience relationship difficulty in their personal lives, and that when they do, performance and productivity suffers. That should be a wake-up call for companies because quite often these high-earners are their top performers and decision makers. But the research also showed that neither the employer nor the employees had any clear strategies on how to build strong relationships, support people well when experiencing relationship difficulty or help prevent future relationship problems.
Strategies for improving mental health, wellbeing and performance are missing a key piece of the puzzle.
That missing piece is learning how to build strong relationships at work… and at home. The better we get at building strong relationships, the healthier we become as individuals and teams, and the better we get at creating inclusive environments. The more we have that sense of belonging, the less defensive/protective we will need to be and the more our energies will be freed up to give of our best and deliver outstanding performance.
We could go a long way to solving many of our people challenges if we just got better at relationships. This moves the conversation on inclusion and belonging from “some of them” to “all of us” because it means we each need to take personal responsibility for how we “show up” in our relationships. To ensure we play our part in “showing up well” we must each build our own relational intelligence, learn to treat each other with kindness and consideration, and find the strength in our differences so we can win together.
But none of this comes naturally and quite often goes against our survival instincts, especially in conflict situations. Which is why developing relational intelligence cannot be left to chance. We must all become proactive and intentional about learning key skills and habits for building great relationships. Our future – as individuals, as families, as companies and nations – depends on it.