Blog

What do we give up to fit in?

Belonging is an essential human need: we feel safer and more content when we are accepted and when we feel that we belong. The contrary may be even more true: feeling rejected or excluded is one of the most painful of human experiences. 

This need is built in to our brain and psyche which means we will do a lot to ensure that we are desirable enough to belong and that we will be included.

When have you adapted yourself in some large or small way so that you could fit in, so that you could be suitable for a group and could be a part of them?

We do this often.

“Don’t be so… American!” I was told when I first started working in the UK twenty years ago. That meant, “Don’t be so expressive, rein in your gestures and tone of voice; calm down”. So, I did. Mostly.

Even more seriously, people of colour are being ‘tone policed’ and told, “don’t be too black, or too loud or too natural”.

And there are those other messages: Don’t be too nerdy! Change your accent! Fit in! Wear the right clothes!

These messages are sometimes communicated overtly and sometimes silently, but they all say, “change yourself so you can be a part of us”.  And we do so because belonging is so fundamentally essential.

Sometimes it is a great bargain. Some changes are a small price to pay for the reward and the deep feeling of safety we get from belonging.

And some are too much of a sacrifice of one’s values, identity, and sanity.

What are the changes you have made so you could belong to a group? How much of a sacrifice was that?

Now, consider when you have been part of a majority identity group, what changes did others have to make so they could be a part of your group? How much of a sacrifice might that have been for them?

A more and more diverse world

Our everyday experience is becoming more and more diverse: a mix of skin colours, ethnicities, ages, sexual orientation, genders, disabilities, neural diversity, and other differences. Our workplaces need to adapt to more types of people and we also need to adapt to a wider range of customers. We will benefit greatly as we learn to include more types of people.

The key is to help everyone feel that they belong. Not superficially, but really belong. It is a feeling they will have, which is not built only by saying, “sure you belong!”.

We also need to recognise that including others doesn’t mean that our own belonging is somehow reduced.

What can you do?

  • Focus on similarities (but don’t pretend there aren’t differences).
  • Leverage differences – how can our differences increase your ability to co-create rather than limit it?
  • Invite others’ voices and really consider their viewpoints.
  • Notice your own negative reactions; work at being more curious and open to new and different ideas.

Join us for our webinar, Wired to Belong, next Wednesday, 10 March. We will explore how our need for belonging impacts us and our relationships.

Wired to Belong

Our natural need for belonging has an influence on our ability to team up with others – in both positive and negative ways.

Find out more