listenMaslow’s Hierarchy of Needs teaches us that a sense of belonging is critical.  Given that basic human need, it’s not surprising that those who feel threatened by social and economic changes, like an outsider – one who is no longer central – spoke out in this year’s Presidential election.

When people feel ignored, discounted or devalued, several things can happen. They might turn inward or become depressed, or they’ll do whatever they believe will put the spotlight on them and their needs.

In every aspect of our lives, we want to matter.  We seek validation.  In the workplace, study after study shows that employees who feel their contributions are valued are more productive and more satisfied.  They stay with organizations longer, take on greater responsibility and ownership of projects, seeing them through to completion regardless of the extra effort required.

Finding ways to assure that all feel heard is a challenge, but it is possible.  First, its essential to accept that whether or not your staff varies racially or ethnically, it is diverse.  It’s diverse in thoughts, beliefs, life experiences, definitions of inclusion, degrees of self-worth and opinions about the worthiness of others.

As a leader, it’s important to understand what drives the individuals who make up your team.  What motivates them?  How do they view their contributions to the organization?  What are the obstacles that stand between them and better performance?  Is there something they seek that you may never have thought of because it’s not something that’s meaningful to you?  Is a problem percolating under the surface that no existing process could uncover?

Ensuring that everyone is heard starts with empathetic listening.  So, at the start of scheduled, work-related one-on-ones, set aside time to connect personally.  On occasion, go outside of the office and share a cup of coffee or enjoy a casual meal together. Take this unique opportunity to go beneath the surface of job duties and get to know each employee as an individual. Empathetic listening creates a unique bond that may be intangible or unmeasurable, but it can also have a ripple effect on innovation, retention, productivity, a sense of work-life balance and more.

Developing a positive organizational culture can begin with one leader setting an example that shows respect for individuals and their differences.  Be the leader who enhances the culture. Satisfy each person’s basic human need for a sense of belonging and personal validation.

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