Looking at inclusion through the lens of exclusion

Workplace inclusion has always been important, and recently it has been gaining attention. However, what it means to have an inclusive culture can vary between organizations. One way to unify how we talk about inclusion is by understanding exclusion. A recent workshop at General Assembly, facilitated by Rajkumari Neogy, founder of iRestart, explored why people feel excluded and the mindset that can be formed when they feel excluded over time.

Five basic needs that affect feelings of exclusion

We all have needs. The problem arises when we feel that a particular need is unmet. When this happens, we then employ behaviors to address the pain of the unmet need. These behaviors fall on a spectrum and the key skillset to adopt is the ability to move on this spectrum. Initially, an unmet need may be annoying, but it can be easily dismissed. Over time, however, these unmet needs begin to cause bigger reactions, both consciously and unconsciously. This is what typically leads to exclusion.

Neogy presents five basic needs and the behaviors that define them:

  1. Integrity is the communication of congruency between what a person feels and what they express. Posturing is when we do not live our lives in this congruence, but only try to appear as we do. When someone is posturing, they do not stand in their own power, and present a false self. This often stems from insecurities or doubt, leaving others confused, mistrusting or critical of a person or situation. When we live truly congruent to our values is when we have accountability. Accountability is the first step in allowing the conversation to move toward inclusion.

  2. Participation - When we experience others as warm and approachable, we become curious about them. When we are curious, we want to learn more and that leads directly to engagement. Knowing when to be reserved and when to engage is critical in inviting others to feel welcomed into any situation. This is a key tenet in building trust.

  3. Trust - The two behaviors of trust are withholding and transparency. There is an art to knowing when to listen or hold back, withhold or be transparent. Demonstrating mastery of this art builds trust. Demonstrating accountability by engaging others with integrity builds the foundation for trust. It is difficult to trust someone who doesn’t live congruently or discloses too much or too little.

  4. Connection - Shifting from hostility to respect. Once integrity, participation, and trust are established, connection is relatively easy. Cultivating connection with others and even ourselves, will require courage and patience, but is critical in establishing a deeper groove toward inclusive communication. It is when respect is given that hostility can be understood - the first step in getting everyone’s needs met.

  5. Support - When people are better connected to others as well as themselves, the desire to support each other becomes the default. Being supportive means going from fearful to generous, and seeking prosperity for others. People in supportive environments behave more consistently. Being supportive means constant vigilance to getting people’s needs met and helping them feel safe. Becoming a constant caregiver in cultivating a vital and thriving culture is essential to the health of the organization, team, and the individual.

These needs are most effective when met in sequential order, in every aspect of our lives. If they aren’t met, we might feel excluded. Exclusion can be triggered in a variety of ways. From someone simply using the cell phone while you’re having a conversation, to noticing that someone didn’t say hello to you as they walked by. Ultimately, exclusion comes from some version of not feeling valued or welcomed.

The four zones of exclusion

If we go through a prolonged period of unmet needs, a new mindset can be developed. Neogy calls this the zones of exclusion. While these mindsets stem from being excluded, over time they lead the individual to exclude others, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Each zone of exclusion stems from an unmet need and the feeling “I am not good enough.”

The zones begin with neediness and victimhood. Neediness stems from the philosophy that it is someone else’s job to meet your needs, and they are not fulfilling that need. Victimhood is a sense of powerlessness, and a longing for acknowledgement. Being in either of these zones hurts, so much that we can see it register as physical pain in the brain.

Seeking to escape this pain results in us moving to other zones of exclusion - entitlement and righteousness. Entitlement and righteousness can be more difficult to understand because they are generally traits we associate with someone who is excluding others out of malicious intent or ignorance. In actuality, these mindsets stem from self-preservation following feelings of exclusion. These zones of exclusion manifest when we’ve been in the previous zones (neediness and victimhood) for too long.

Breaking the mindset of exclusion

In order to break the cycle and mindset of exclusion, we must become aware of our zones of exclusion. If you don’t break the cycle, those that have previously been excluded may continue to exclude others as a way to protect themselves.

Which zone of exclusion do you live in? We all have one, and we need to own it so we can eventually become more inclusive towards others. When you share your experience with the zone of exclusion in which you live, it opens up the conversation for other people to do so as well. Then, people can become aware of how they might be excluding others, oftentimes without even realizing it.

Understanding zones of exclusion to create inclusion

To create a truly inclusive environment, we should always seek to fully understand your zones of exclusion and how people want their needs met. As Neogy says, “You cannot feel fully included until you understand where you are actively excluding yourself and others.” While we have the same basic needs, how we want those needs to be fulfilled is unique. Inclusion is being personal in how we meet others needs. That requires a constant commitment to building relationships and building trust through using empathic communication. The good news is, while exclusion is painful, empathy takes away the pain.

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