Why being different is hard

Imagine: You are on your way to make a presentation for a new potential customer. You are excited about the possibilities. You walk into the designated meeting room and you notice everyone there is speaking a language different from your own. You thought the meeting was going to be in your language; you become a little concerned. Then you notice that people are looking at you oddly, you feel that you don’t belong here. It unnerves you. You are directed dispassionately to a seat in back corner – they say, stay here until we are ready to hear from you. You feel a little more anxious. It’s hard to think straight and you wonder if you will remember your presentation. Your enthusiasm has evaporated.

This emotional descent would be a normal response – given the brain we have. Each point of exclusion increases our discomfort and can destroy our confidence and stability.

I’ve worked a lot with a model that helps explain human behaviour. And I’m finding it more and more useful. There are six social elements that drive fear or comfort. They are also core human needs. When our needs are not met or they are threatened in some way, we become de-skilled, anxious, hurt or upset. Continue in this direction and it could lead to a number of reactions: outrage, wanting revenge and even anxiety or depression.

Here is the model which describes our human needs. If we have these six needs met, the brain is happy and we work well and learn well. When these are threatened, we head down the road towards anxiety and reduced proficiency/ability.

Be SAFE & certain

Belonging – feeling like you are a part of the group
Status – having a clear role and getting respect
Autonomy – being able to do things your own way
Fairness – being treated fairly
Expectation – being able to anticipate positively and have hope
Certainty – knowing the way forward

While the initial example was about you and language, it extends to all kinds of ways people are set apart. People of colour, expats, minorities, LGBTQs and disabled people will experience threats to these six elements often. If you experienced so many threats, it would be normal to become anxious or angry.

So what do we do about this?

As a leader or team member – you can do a lot to make sure people are included and help them feel that they belong. It’s not just including them in meetings – but believing that they belong. This may require some thought and self-awareness on your part.

Respect people, give them a chance and a clear role, help them succeed so they’re on the road to success and others will see that too.

Allow people to have their own ways – their own clothes, food and hairstyle.

Treat people fairly. That might not be treating everyone the same, but how do you give everyone a fair chance?

Set expectations – don’t make promises you can’t keep, but give people some hope.

Create as much certainty as possible about your position and your relationship with others.

It is hard to be inclusive. But it is much harder to be excluded.