“I’m deleting my resignation letter” is a secret I’m told a lot when I mix and mingle with the audience after one of my keynotes.
It still blows my mind how the simple changes in our perception of events can completely transform our sense of belonging.
Simply put, the way we talk to ourselves matters and has a direct correlation with whether or not we feel like we belong.
Sometimes it’s a miracle I ever leave my house because of some of the things I tell myself!
Here’s some inner dialog that people have shared with me and… one of my own – see if you can tell which one is mine!
- I feel like such an imposter in my new position at work.
- No matter how hard I work or how successful I am, I never feel like I’m doing enough.
- Should I really be attending that BBQ without my lashes on? 😳
Renowned psychologist, author and researcher Martin Seligman gave this kind of mental jousting a name…he calls it “Explanatory Style” which is fancy positive psychology jargon for the way we talk to ourselves.
According to Martin, there are two categories of explanatory style:
Here’s a few examples of Optimistic Explanatory Style (I shared the Pessimistic Style on the above list – #3 was mine! Are you surprised?!):
- It’s amazing to feel professionally challenged. I feel like I’m stretching, growing and learning in ways I never expected. My job makes me feel so ALIVE!
- I’m finally comfortable with creating professional (and personal) boundaries so that I can have a more balanced life – adulting feels GREAT!
- I have the most amazing people in my life who love me. Lashes or no lashes! I love my life!
So what does all this have to do with belonging?
The Pessimistic Explanatory Style keeps us from feeling like we don’t belong because it erodes the belief of our intrinsic value. How we explain situations to ourselves is fundamentally related to how we value ourselves. Seeing ourselves (and others) as valuable contributors is critical to experiencing belonging – once that feeling is gone, oftentimes the feeling of belonging goes too.
If you’re wanting to feel more belonging at work ask yourself:
- What value do I bring here?
- What contribution do I make?
Why these questions? Because understanding your value is the pathway to understanding our own belonging. It’s essential that we see ourselves as valuable contributors to the whole.
Conversely, if you’re wanting to create belonging at work for others, remind them of their value and the specific contribution they make. This can be done in big and small ways and really, the “small” ways are the most meaningful. Here’s a great example.
- A friend of mine received the below note from someone at her company. She proudly posted it on LinkedIn as it clearly had a positive impact on her. As her friend, I loved that she was recognized in this way and shared in her joy having received it. This note is a perfect example of what it looks like to value someone’s unique contribution. It probably didn’t take a lot of time, but it was clear that the person who wrote it gave a lot of thought to the words that they chose. In the end it’s not about the big things, but the smallest gestures that matter the most. That same thinking holds true for creating belonging as well.
These “small” can quite literally make the difference between an employee turning in a resignation letter or realizing they want to stay.
So let’s switch gears now.
One thing we’ve heard a lot of people say is “Words Matter.”
Like most things we hear often, we can get “nose blind” to certain catch phrases don’t you think? It’s like our brain shuts down and we “zone out” when we hear certain things because we think we already know what they mean. It’s part of the “self preservation setting” that all of us humans are born with I guess.
There’s literal research pointing to the fact that 95% our behavior is cemented in mindless habit.
And even if that’s a slight exaggeration, there’s still a better than 50% chance that on any given Wednesday night, I was on my couch watching the final season of Ted Lasso with my daughter! Were you as obsessed with that show as me? If yes, you are in for a treat really soon!
OK, back to explanatory style.If we want to create belonging for ourselves and others we need to understand what world renowned researcher and author Martin Seligman calls “Explanatory Style.”
There are two “styles”:
Each style gives us the lens that we use to explain everything that happens in our life and as a result we wind up with what Seligman calls “Habits of belief” which describes a bent we have towards believing a certain thing is true consistently over time. Like if you and I have ever have the opportunity to be in a car together, I will most likely remind you that…
…you are driving with someone who always gets rockstar parking. #facts
This “habit of belief” is so strong for me that the world quite literally bends to my belief and I always get rockstar parking – even if I have to drive around for 30 minutes to find it! 🤣🤣🤣
Now, by no means am I a perfect person. That said, I do my level best to have an optimistic outlook on life, and sometimes, in some scenarios, I have a tendency to see the ‘glass half empty’ as they say – we’re all human after all.
Guess what? Every person we know deals with their own version of this exact same thing.
Two things can be true at once.
I think you would agree that one of the biggest sources of power is our ability to manage our mindset which is the perfect segue into the next level of explanatory style.
There are three dimensions according to Selligman:
Pessimistic people…tell themselves bad things are always going to happen. They tend to explain things using words like “always” and “never.”
Here’s a few examples of Permanence:
- “You never clear your plate from the table after we eat.”
- “I always have to cook and plan and do everything for us!”
- “I always have to do this, because they never remember that this is actually in their job description – not mine.”
Optimistic people…see problems as temporary. There’s always a way through.
Pessimistic people…tend to allow failures and negative points of view to spread into their entire life. “Throwing the baby out with the bathwater” kind of thinking. One bad apple really does spoil the bunch in this case. They explain things in sweeping generalizations and spend a lot of mental energy proving they are right about the problem being literally everywhere.
Optimistic people…have more specific explanations for their setbacks and even if they struggle in one area of their life they can still move forward in other areas.
Here’s an example:
- “OK so I didn’t do great on that project because I missed a key piece of research – my bad. Next time, it’s going to be that much better. Also, I’m killing it in every other aspect of my job so I’m not going to lose sight of all my wins just because I made a mistake.
Pessimistic people…see setbacks as something that is related to who they are as a person. They allow even the smallest setback to negatively inform their sense of self and subsequently their self esteem. They see things as their fault that are clearly not their fault.
Optimistic people…understand that while they can take responsibility for something it doesn’t mean they are a flawed human being. They can recognize the mistakes they make, and they are able to move on.
Which one of these do you relate to the most?
⭐⭐⭐ Newsflash: Your explanatory style has profound effect on your sense of belonging and conversely your ability to create it for others.⭐⭐⭐
Best Part: If you feel stuck and find yourself always providing evidence to why things won’t workout for you, it may be time to make an adjustment to your explanatory style. It super important to identify which “dimension” you gravitate to the most with your language, and then use that as your starting point.
So, while it’s true, words DO matter and… they are not permanent – you can change them whenever you want!