Photo of Gloria Cotton

Happy Valentine’s Day! Whether you celebrate this sorta-kinda-unofficial holiday or not, many of us use this day to let others know we like or love them. 

For me it started with me giving and hoping to get those little candy hearts with short “I love you” and “Be mine” notes on them to/from my playmates in 1st grade! Then it was sharing my sandwich with my BFF before that acronym was even thought of. As an adult, it includes the giving and receiving of flowers, chocolates—gluten free for those who need it, tickets to the theater or a phone call or a visit.

I clearly see how liking and loving someone inspires me to do things like that in my personal life with family and friends.

The question is, in the world of inclusion at work, do I have to like or love the people I’m being asked to “include?”

Short answer: No.

We don’t HAVE to like or love people to include them. BUT, it’s oh-so-much easier when/if we do. For those of you who are shocked that I said that, just breathe. You know I’m always going to Keep it Real! Breathe. Ready? Let’s continue.

First, let’s be clear about what we mean when we say people need to be “included.” At inQUEST we say inclusion happens when people feel they are welcomed, valued, respected and heard (W/V/R/H). It might help to think of it this way:

Inclusion is the result of people feeling, that we W/V/R/H them…

  • for themselves as human beings (who they are), and
  • for their current and/or potential contributions (the work they do, how they do it and the impacts they have and differences they make)

…because of what we do and say with, to and about them. It’s also about how, when, where we do those things. And it’s about what we say to their faces AND behind their backs.

Sometimes that’s easy because our values, biases, experiences and goals with a person or group are “positive” and most likely exactly alike or aligned with our own. We like them! We may even love them! And, by the way, they may (and probably do) like and/or love us too! We think and feel they’re easy, energizing and exciting to work and be with. They most likely think and feel the same about us too. It’s mutual! Both of us can quickly and easily list the reasons we’re easy and good to work with. In this case, those reasons fuel our justifications for our welcoming, valuing, respecting and hearing them.

And sometimes that’s not easy because there’s a clash and maybe even total disagreement of our values, biases, experiences and goals. When that happens, we have no problem listing the reasons we don’t like/love them. And, by the way, many times it never occurs to us that the “other” may have just as many (or more) reasons not to like/love us as we have about them. In this case, our reasons fuel our excuses.

The impact of people NOT feeling W/V/R/H is that, over time, they find ways to get by, get out and get even.

And, while we are looking at what the people who don’t feel we W/V/R/H them are doing, we creatively build stories about why they’re doing what they’re doing and what they’ll continue to do—all without holding ourselves accountable for how our actions may have contributed to theirs. That’s a slippery slope that leads us to passive and/or aggressive negative avoidance, tolerance and exclusion.

So, what can we do?

Whether we like/love our associates or not, before taking action I suggest you breathe, step back, then stand up for relationships and environments where you AND others feel W/V/R/H when it’s easy and when it’s hard. This little model may help make it easier to make this work for real. While all steps are important, the order of the other actions will depend upon variables, e.g., duration and intensity of the relationship to date and goals and needs going forward.

  • Stop before taking action
  • Acknowledge feelings and thoughts—yours and theirs
  • Look for and discuss observations, impacts
  • Invite and discuss new, missed, misinterpreted evidence
  • Engage others who may have a different perspective, sweat equity and emotional attachment
  • Negotiate, define and clarify ways of working going forward
  • Take action that promotes, influeces and inspires mutual W/V/R/H

Happy like/love day. And, happy days of demonstrated inclusion!