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How to create a sense of belonging wherever you are

We live in deeply divided times, but scientific research says there are proven ways to meet in the middle. Geoffrey L. Cohen is professor of psychology and the James G. March Professor of Organizational Studies in Education and Business at Stanford University. He joins host Krys Boyd to discuss why establishing connections and reflecting on core values are keys to creating empathy. His book is “Belonging: The Science of Creating Connection and Bridging Divides.”

Bonus Blog: Feeling like you belong can unlock success at work and school 

Hybrid and remote work have become more common in recent years, making it harder for some people to have face-to-face time with their coworkers. Even before the pandemic, many companies were looking for ways to help people feel more included in the workplace. 

Our guest, social psychologist Geoffrey Cohen, says that remote or not, it’s up to leaders and managers to create opportunities for people to connect with their colleagues and feel like they are part of a team. 

“I do think that working remotely without that sense of family or community is less than ideal,” Cohen says. “That said, a lot of organizations and a lot of corporate environments and, for that matter, a lot of school environments, aren’t set up in such a way that really encourages or creates that sense of connection that is so optimal for human performance and motivation.” 

Team-building exercises and scheduled meetings for colleagues to interact and get to know each other better can help people feel like they belong. There are plenty of tools that teams can use to work better together in hybrid and remote environments such as intranets and newsletters, or even a virtual team coffee. 

We might think that once we’re successful at work or school, then we’ll feel like we belong. But Cohen argues that it’s the other way around and that feeling like we belong is foundational to success. 

“Increasingly, a lot of research demonstrates in social psychology that when we feel like we belong, we’re more open to feedback about how we can do better,” Cohen explains. “We’re less defensive and we’re better able to perform up to our potential.” 

So, what can leaders do to create that sense of belonging? It turns out that small things can actually have a big impact. 

One tactic that Cohen suggests is called “values affirmations” — essentially asking people about their core values in order to help them feel seen as an individual within a group.

“When people get a chance to affirm their values in a setting where they’re working or striving to achieve, they’re more likely to feel as though they belong under certain key conditions and even are more likely to succeed and perform better over the long term,” Cohen says. 

Learn more about how to create a sense of belonging by listening to the podcast of this episode above!

—Cristin Espinosa, Digital Producer for Think