We are want to be included, to belong to the tribe. Our brains are constantly scanning our environment and our interactions to determine if we “fit in” or not. That’s why the “like me” bias is so prevalent—because we feel most comfortable (most safety and belonging) with people that are similar to us.Who’s Special–And Thus Included?
I’m not going to talk about diversity here, as I’ve done so before. Instead, I want to urge you to look at your organization, and to notice who is being excluded and why. Sometimes it’s easiest to first look at who is included, or who’s in the “in group” (yes, just like in High School!). Ask yourself:
Chances are really good that you thought of a smallish group of people. And I’ll bet they all have things in common with the leaders that offer them the above benefits. We’ll call them the “in group”. That’s the “like me” cognitive bias at work, and beneath it, we’re subconsciously just trying to mitigate risk. Everyone else is the “out-group”.
Your brain has three to four times as much real estate devoted to identifying threats versus identifying opportunities and rewards. Since we are all naturally biased, there’s no need to feel ashamed of it. However, there’s a very profound business case for becoming more aware of exclusion and how it damages our performance, emotional engagement, health and happiness at work and in life overall.
Your Brain On Exclusion
You’ve been left out of a group before (think back to Junior High or High School, or the last round of promotions you weren’t part of or the special meeting/project you weren’t included in, you get the idea). You know how emotionally painful it feels. Our belonging is threatened when we are ostracized or excluded, and we dive into Critter State (fight, flight, freeze). Now our brain literally cannot function the way it does when it feels safe and is in Smart State.
Bring The “Out” Group “In”
As leaders, we must promote everyone’s Smart State by not just hiring diverse team members but including them. If your not-like-you team members don’t feel included, they’ll end up in Critter State, where no one wins.