Workplace Belonging: It’s not just a nice idea

Workplace Belonging: It’s not just a nice idea
Shannon Lee, Executive Director, Leadership Columbus

Note: The ideas and concepts in this post are adapted from Conversational Capacity, a Ken Blanchard workshop.

I believe there is both a mindset and skillset necessary to create more belonging in the workplace. And since words matter and carry such power, one of those skills is improving the quality of our conversations with co-workers, bosses, and direct reports. Quality conversations explore diverse perspectives and lean into difference, so it makes sense that working on this skill can be a huge part of creating more belonging at work.

According to Ken Blanchard Companies, the ability to have high-quality conversations are referred to as Conversational Capacity. They define Conversational Capacity as “the ability of a person or team to engage in open, balanced, non defensive dialogue about difficult subjects and in challenging circumstances”.

When I write about ‘skillset’ I am simply referring to our range of skills and abilities in a certain area. When I write about ‘mindset’ I am referring to our thought patterns and attitudes in a certain area. Some of us need to think our way to a new way of acting and others need to act our way to a new way of thinking. New thinking and new acting can be done simultaneously too.


Candor and Curiosity

I normally shy away from using the term ‘balance’ these days but when it comes to candor and curiosity, balance is the word I want. Balance can often mean constant tension and the assumption here is that tension is bad. I don’t believe all tension is bad. Sometimes we have to hold tension internally to stretch ourselves to show up in new ways. Until that new way becomes more typical for us, we will feel a tension around creating that change.

To improve the quality of our conversations, or Conversational Capacity, we can learn to remain in the sweet spot where candor and curiosity are in balance. The tension created by working towards this balance is worth it and depending on one’s natural tendencies, this tension can be productive.


The first step (and Eckart Tolle would argue, the only step) toward change is awareness. To improve our conversations at work and beyond, we must develop an aptitude for recognizing what pulls us out of the sweet spot mentioned above. There are two primary tendencies that pull most of us out of that sweet spot: the need to minimize or win.

Minimize or Win

When we face a difficult conversation, without awareness, we will lean toward our natural tendencies to minimize or win the conversation. When we are minimizing, we are attempting to relieve the tension we feel by avoiding conflict, downplaying our own feelings and/or opinions, and acquiesce to others.

When we have a tendency to win, we are reducing tension by forcing our view, trying to be right or get our own way. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with stating your position, however, the tendency to win is marked by a belief that “my position is the right position on this topic”.


The solution to the tendency to minimize, is candor. The skills of candor are 1) Stating our position and 2) Explaining our rationale. The keys to these skills are to keep it brief and avoid the tendency to repeat your position and your reasoning in various ways. Once you start doing that, you may be slipping into a ‘win’ tendency.

The solution to the tendency to try to win, is curiosity. The skills of curiosity are 1) Testing our own views and 2) Inquiring into the views of others. The keys here are to remember that you test yourself and inquire of others, not the other way around. When we slip into testing others, we are out of the sweet spot.

When we combine the skills of candor and curiosity, we create a powerful communication and feedback loop that keeps us in the sweet spot. But let’s dive a little deeper into these two skills.


State your position on the topic

  • Clear, concise, compelling, one sentence (two max). Think of this like a topic sentence of a paragraph.
  • This statement should distill the essence of your view, keeping in mind that you hold this view loosely, it is not a fixed position. This is more of a ‘Here’s where I am now’ If you are confused, that can be expressed in a concise way as well. For example:
  • “I am confused about the low turnout at our event and believe we need to increase it by redesigning our recruitment and advertising strategy to show the value.”

Explain your rationale

  • After you state your position, explain how you arrived at your position and share any evidence that you’re using.
  • Additionally, explain how you are interpreting that evidence. For example:
  • “When I reviewed our recruitment strategy, I noticed that we left out several important stakeholder groups. Additionally, I saw no evidence of regular advertising. These two factors lead me to believe that not enough people knew about the event.”


Test your own view

  • This is sort of both a skill and a mindset here. To test your own view, you must have the mindset that while you believe in your position, you view it as a hypothesis. This mindset will help you remain in the sweet spot of curiosity.
  • Once you’ve stated your position and rationale, ask others to help you identify errors or gaps in your thinking. This is how you test your own view.

Inquire into the views of others

  • At this point, you are now asking what others’ perspectives are. Maybe someone has a different position than you do. Here’s where you create space for that input.
  • The mindset here must be curiosity – you listen to be influenced by others, not just as a step in a process. You are genuinely interested in their perspective.
  • Be sure to invite diverse perspectives!

Bad Faith Inquiry

When we are not truly curious and are committed to winning, we may still inquire but doing so in bad faith. In other words, we aren’t inquiring to be influenced or to learn, but rather to go through the motions. Or worse, we use this step to deflate others’ opinions. Some examples of bad faith inquiry might be:

  • You don’t really think that, do you?
  • Is that the best idea you have?
  • Geesh, what is your problem?

My suggestion is if you feel any of these types of responses welling up inside, note it on your trigger journal and just stay quiet. These bad faith questions will do harm to teams and relationships, reduce trust, and encourage an environment where everyone ends up minimizing out of fear of being asked questions like these again.


I previously mentioned that changing the quality of our conversations is both a skillset and a mindset. The mindset shift I suggest is that we commit to learning and making informed decisions and that those two things are more important than being comfortable or right.

We must genuinely believe in addressing our own shortcomings when it comes to communication and adopt a learning mindset. When in conversations with co-workers, our boss, or others, if our unconscious commitment is to win the conversation or to minimize our position/feelings, then we are not in the sweet spot of candor and curiosity. Our new mindset can be one of learning. It’s human nature to try to either win or minimize in conversations. The need to win is often fueled by a need to be right or to protect power/position. The need to minimize is often brought on by fear and/or the need to remain comfortable and non-confrontational. Both extremes keep us from the quality communication that leads to better and collaborative decisions and more belonging. Now that we are aware of these tendencies we can intentionally focus on this new mindset.


Another way to work on our mindset, or our thinking, is to become acquainted with what triggers us to leave the sweet spot of candor and curiosity. When I do workshops on Conversational Capacity, I introduce a Trigger Journal. You can make your own! Just create a sheet with four columns and use it daily to reflect. Here are the column headers:

  • What was the situation?
  • What was the trigger?
  • How did I let it affect my behavior? What was my reaction?
  • The next time I notice this trigger, what is a more balanced and effective way I might choose to respond?

More Belonging, Less Fear

So how does all this work together to create more belonging? Here’s my list!

When people are met with candor, there are fewer misunderstandings. Fewer misunderstandings and more authenticity in the workplace builds trust – trust is a key component to belonging
The sweet spot of candor and curiosity creates the ability to influence others, rather than a ‘power-over’ environment. Being influenced and being controlled are very different. If you are showing up in an influential way, you are creating an environment where others feel they can too.
When everyone has the skillset and mindset to be influential in their workplace, they all feel a greater sense of ownership and belonging.
Candor and curiosity ensure we are gathering input from diverse perspectives and doing so in good faith. When people feel they are being engaged in good faith and their perspectives are validated and heard, they will feel more a part of the team.

This post is just a small taste of the concepts in Conversational Capacity. Conversational Capacity is a 6-hour workshop that can be done in person or virtually and now available through Leadership Columbus. To inquire further about bringing this content to your team, reach out to our Associate Director, Karen Hewitt, at