A team chat the other day about the resurgence of board games became a deeper conversation way beyond winning and losing.

We found ourselves talking about belonging versus …..not.

One team member noted a horrible personal downward spiral at a recent family Monopoly game. Luck was not with him. Throw by throw his position in the game deteriorated.

The teasing (and low level swaggering) from family members became more intense. He said he began to understand what it might be like to belong to a marginalised resistance group. (In his excitement at recalling the feeling, he quoted the world’s number one terrorist organisation.)

And so the discussion about ‘not belonging’ began.

It appears that feeling excluded literally hurts.

Neuroscience suggests that the same part of the brain – the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex – is active when physical pain is experienced as when the social/emotional pain of being excluded or ostracised is felt. So the language we all use such as ‘hurt feelings’ is completely accurate.

This matters because social belonging is a fundamental psychological need.

Not only is a series of harmful psychological consequences caused by being rejected, this avalanche of pain is produced regardless of who did the rejecting. An individual or group that you truly despise? Their rejection of you will still sting.

Yet, responses to the process of ostracism are amazing.

More and stronger attempts are made to connect and co-operate to restore what is missing. Skills such as co-operation and reading social information improve. ‘Exclusion’ is not a simple casting choice.

The ramifications are huge, and generally underestimated.

The ability to include everyone begins to feel like one of the most important skills we never talk about.
Time to shake it all about.


…we say when things look wobbly. But until a real frisson of danger is felt, we’ll just carry on. We carry on trying to do the right thing, trying to be as perfect as we can.   And what could be wrong with aiming for perfection? It trails energy, concern and effort, raises the bar and gets that best foot forward. What’s not to like?

But there is an unlikeable aspect. Exclusion.

I saw an example this week. It was all very counter intuitive.

A superbly arranged conference debated ‘Leadership’.

A new report into Global Leadership in the 21st century was the catalyst for the discussion. It’s always tricky to organise groups of people, but there are time-honoured methods that seem to work. So the format was a prestigious panel of speakers, neat seating in accessible rows, a clear timetable – perfect military precision, in fact. (Hurrah for that – it’s good to feel safe, that things aren’t chaotic.)

The form of participation was a Q & A …and some great questions were asked. None seemed to challenge or stretch the speakers, but intelligence was displayed and opinions heard.

In a little crowd later around the coats I found myself talking to a shy young person. The timing was just right and we chatted.  She and her colleagues ran a business co-ordinating social media campaigns for big businesses. I asked her about Leadership.

‘We don’t really have that’ she said. ‘ We lead ourselves. I didn’t know how to raise it in there!’

Ah, a successful – leaderless – business.

So if the set up had been more relaxed and less perfection-seeking, we might have heard something radical. We might have had a chance to have all hands on deck for what is looking like an increasingly wobbly time.

From now on, it’s out with believing in perfection, and in with a little unplanned and inclusive chaos.

Perfect timing, of course.