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Do I belong here?

This is the seventh in the series of posts about ‘relational learning’; how we learn about ourselves through our relationships with others and what's going on in our lives. This week, I'm picking up the theme of 'belonging' which comes from depth in our relationships.

I’m in a room full of people looking purposeful, moving about looking like they know what they are doing. I want to join them, I believe I can add value. The only problem is, a solid, sound proof glass wall seems to have appeared between us. I have my face and hands pressed up against the glass….please, just let me in. Only problem is, they can’t seem to hear me and I’m not even sure they can see me anymore.

This was the image that came to mind last night. It came up during a peer to peer coaching call and I was sharing my frustration with building a network and a business. It’s evocative of a week in which I’ve been focused on reading & talking around emotional well-being and our basic human need to ‘belong’.

There is science behind our need to belong and it is hardwired into the biology of our bodies and brains, coming into consciousness through our minds:

“The social brain is the sum of the neural mechanisms that orchestrate our interactions as well as our thoughts and feelings about people and our relationships. The most telling news here maybe that the social brain represents the only biological system in our bodies that continually attunes us to, and in turn becomes influenced by, the internal state of people we’re with”

(Goleman, 2006, p10)

‘Belonging’ goes beyond mere contact with others, it requires a deeper, more inclusive relationship that validates our sense of who we are through our interactions with others. It helps us to understand our place in the world; to feel like we’re living, not just existing. To be seen and heard for the person that we are. The coaching call was a great example, I was online with a friend and coach I deeply respect, on hearing my story whilst she shared an awareness of wanting to help me, she did not want to fix me or the situation. She just allowed me to be heard and helped me explore my experience further.

'Belonging' requires ‘Relational Depth’. Relationships which have a quality and liveliness which contribute to how we make meaning of our selves, our ‘we’ and the situation.

Signs that tell me when I belong:

  • equal exchange of giving and receiving

  • valued for what I do not rejected for what I don’t do

  • a genuine warmth & curiosity in connection

  • a ‘welcome’ to step forward into something new

  • a warm feeling down my spine and fluid movement between my body and head

How would you describe the quality and liveliness of the relationships/ groups of which you are part? When do you know when you belong and when you don’t? How does ‘not belonging’ affect you & your leadership?

Please send me an email and let me know; help me bring down the glass wall!


Goleman, D., 2006. Social Intelligence: the revolutionary new science of human relationships. New York: Bantam Dell

So far in the series:

  1. Introduction to Relational Learning

  2. How Relational Learning shows you what you value in life

  3. Learning through inaction and distraction

  4. Let's go fly a kite

  5. Who are you really?

  6. How intentional are you?

Felicity Hodkinson is a leadership coach working with individuals and groups, she is a creator of ‘relational learning experiences’ and founder of Bend the River. She combines her marketing, commercial and change management experience of 20 years gained in small business and corporate FTSE100 companies with her passion for coaching individuals and organisations.

Email Felicity to explore how this coaching approach could help you develop your leadership practices. Read her recent article on 'Softening the Goal Mindset' in Global Coaching Perspectives, July 2016 (the magazine from the Association for Coaching).

#relationallearning #leadershippractices #coaching

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