The Science Behind Forming Human Connections and Breaking Down Discrimination

April 4, 2019 / by Lydia Stevens

For many people, the office can be an exciting and interesting place to work and connect with others in the process. Unfortunately, this is not the case for everyone, especially those who face discrimination due to race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. Studies show that discrimination can lead to negative emotions like anger and fear, which in turn influence the overall satisfaction and happiness an employee experiences in his or her career (Swim, Hyers, Cohen, and Ferguson, 2001). Although many of us try to avoid discriminating against others, the reality is that stereotypes and prejudiced thoughts are very much a social norm – one that we need to work actively against should we hope to reduce their damaging effects.

ladies at board table

When it comes to how we think about and treat others, many of us are highly influenced by our perceived social “groups.” Once we see ourselves as a member of a group, humans have demonstrated a psychological tendency to prefer members of this group and apply stereotypes to members who are seen as outside the group (Mallet, Wilson, and Gilbert, 2008). This is called intergroup bias. It is an especially strong force when the social norm of the group is to think or act discriminately towards other groups. However, the opposite situation can also exist where the socially acceptable forms of communication are founded in respect and understanding of different people’s perspectives and identities.

Above all, focusing on connections with others is the best way to reduce the presence and effects of discrimination both in the workplace and beyond. In an office setting, the most practical ways to do this are to encourage intergroup contact as well as to help create a common ingroup identity, a model created by Gaertner and Dovidio in 2008. This model says that intergroup bias is reduced when people reconfigure the boundaries of their “ingroup” to include members of the perceived “outgroup.” When people go from being outside to inside the group, it becomes easier to see past stereotypes and instead form meaningful connections with people who have a wide variety of perspectives.

 

What Can You Do: Foster Intergroup Contact

Despite the larger company that technically connects all employees, many employees still see themselves as being part of distinct groups. Not only are they separated into different departments but they are also bringing any possible combination of personal identities and corresponding groups with them. The contact between different groups is called intergroup contact, and increasing this type of communication is seen as an important part of changing the social norms around discrimination today.

Intergroup contact is only an effective solution to reducing prejudice when it makes the members of each group feel closer together rather than more divided. Fostering an environment where “Giving is the norm” as Adam Grant describes in his book, “Give and Take,” by establishing a recognition system like Preciate, helps to facilitate this kind of intergroup contact by creating a culture of positive recognition. An organization that actively promotes the act of giving thanks and recognizing effort and achievement requires empathy of its people; recognizing a coworker’s contribution means that person had to put themselves in another’s shoes and found them deserving of appreciation. This type of communication helps to bring people together, demonstrating how any group is comprised of many complex individuals who defy stereotypes.

 

Common Ingroup Identity in the Office

All businesses have an opportunity to create a unique, common ingroup identity within their organization. With Preciate, common group values are quickly established and a culture of positivity and appreciation is encouraged. As intergroup bias and discrimination decrease, there is more room to learn about fellow team members and their identities. What is learned can then be applied not only to relationships in the office but also to all future endeavors in a world that is increasingly diverse and connected.

Topics: employee happiness, #discrimination

Lydia Stevens

Written by Lydia Stevens

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