“Everybody is (but doesn’t feel) welcome!”

Before you get everybody’s best, you have to work on everybody’s belonging.

Just because someone is in the room doesn’t mean they feel welcome there. We’ve all experienced this feeling of uncertainty: am I welcome here…really?

Making everybody feel welcome is remarkably complicated. Whenever you’re the majority, this is usually surprising. Whenever you’re the minority, you’re reminded of it constantly. Perhaps you felt this at your in-laws, if you were invited to a new meeting, or in a new environment.

You were the other. You were reminded of your ‘other status’ with people’s words and their silence, with their actions and their eye contact.

When you aren’t sure you belong it’s much harder to be brave. If you want to be great, you need environments where everybody can be brave.

To contribute fully to a team, family, or small group means having the courage to disagree (and if you don’t promote disagreement, you’re in danger). Varied perspectives help you make better decisions. They also make everything more interesting, dynamic, and nuanced. Everybody gets better when everybody is welcome.

I help people experience connection and growth through small groups. Just because you’re in a group doesn’t mean you feel welcome there (in the same way: just because you’re in a family doesn’t mean you feel welcome there, either). Small group leaders have to be intentional to create communities that invite differences in belief, background, personality, and politics.

This week, we were reminded that many Asian American’s wonder if they are welcome. Leaders, we’ve got to take this personally. Maybe you didn’t contribute to prejudice and exclusion this year. But leaders, we never limit ourselves to solving problems we created!

If we want this to get better, we’re responsible. It’s not enough to not be a jerk. It’s not just going to blow over. Making everyone feel welcome is complicated. If you don’t, they won’t believe they belong and you won’t get their best or your best.

Never underestimate how intentional you’ll have to be to make everyone feel welcome.

Whitney Ott

There is a lot of terrific work out there about creating inclusive environments. Here are three ways you can start:

  1. Invite people to share their story.
  2. Ask people what behaviors, words, or silences make them feel unwelcome.
  3. Use a tool like Working Genius, Enneagram, or DISC to help people talk about how they see the world and contribute to it.

As always, start with listening, refuse to go alone, and choose empathy.

It’s complicated, time consuming, and worth it. Everybody gets better when everybody belongs.

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