Maslow’s Hierarchy – Communication at Work & A Sense of Belonging

We often take day-to-day communication for granted, especially communication at work. Even the simplest things like ordering coffee or asking for directions, trigger a lot of activity in our brains. In fact, there’s a whole school of science behind the way we interact with each other, both verbal and nonverbal. 

Sociologists have studied for years how communication (and lack thereof) affects our sense of wellness and belonging. Surprise: it has a big effect. This is especially relevant right now in the midst of a pandemic where feelings of isolation are seemingly universal. 

It’s especially interesting to look at communication through the lens of how we interact at work. It’s a place where we spend huge parts of our lives. It also usually has a clear hierarchical structure and requires almost constant communication. So how does communication happen in a workplace?

Communication at Work

Communication is important in all parts of our life, but it’s especially crucial in the workplace. We all know to gain someone’s trust and respect, we have to be able to speak their language, in a metaphoric sense. So how do we communicate at work and why does it matter? 

Basics of Communication

Communication always works with a sender, a receiver, and a message somewhere in between. There can be other factors that impact communication, but the basis of how most communication happens is pretty simple. What’s not simple is understanding all of the nuances in the way our brains perceive different messages. 

For example, we all remember the famous example of John F Kennedy debating Richard Nixon in a presidential debate. Everyone who was watching on TV was sure Kennedy won, while everyone listening on the Radio knew Nixon won. The point is the medium matters. It doesn’t only matter what we want to say, it matters how we say it. 

This is why PR pros and Sales Directors work so hard on their delivery. (Think back to a scene from Wolf of Wall Street where Leo is giving one of his famous speeches and you will know what I mean). Every little interaction that we have signals something to our colleagues and builds up to how we are perceived.  

Impact on Business

Additionally, we know that workplace communication has a huge effect on the success of a business. Gartner research shows better communication and collaboration in the workspace can increase productivity by 25-35%. Other studies show that communicating gratitude or a compliment improves someone’s performance on a task. This all points to communication as a fundamental building block of a successful team and company. 

However, communication isn’t just about transmitting information in a transactional manner between a few people. Communication goes much deeper, impacting how society has been built and the way that we connect as humans. Let’s take a look from a different lens and see how communication at work impacts our sense of belonging. 

A Sense of Belonging in the Workplace

Social psychologists have known for years that a sense of belonging is a key human need. In fact, in Maslow’s famous “hierarchy of needs,” sense of belonging forms a key building block for humans. While we all find our sense of belonging in different places. It’s an important part of who we are and how we identify. 

Social Structure and Comms

While your workspace might not be the place that gives you the biggest sense of belonging, it’s an important part of most people’s social structures. It makes sense — it’s a community that we typically spend more time with than almost all other communities.

A sense of belonging at work isn’t just a nice feeling. It’s also incredibly important for the success of a company. For example, did you know that people who have a best friend at work are more highly engaged and significantly more likely to engage their customers? It’s true. It’s also true that companies who have strong social ties at work do better work

This information begs the question, how do you build a stronger sense of belonging in a workplace? It’s all about communication. Researchers at Princeton found that as we listen, our brains start to mirror the activity of the speakers. Our brains literally sync up as we communicate with each other and find common ground. 

Consequences for Teams

Teams grow closer and feel more connected over time as they spend more time together. Things like inside jokes and shared knowledge about each other are what helps us feel closer to them. It makes us feel a part of something bigger. This growth towards a sense of belonging comes from verbal and nonverbal communication with other members of the group, or workplace. 

Unfortunately, a lot of people have started to lose the strong social bonds they had in the workplace due to this shift to remote work. As work has largely moved online, in-person communication has shifted to slack messages and zoom calls. While most companies want to do their best to keep social connections strong, there haven’t been a lot of great resources to do so. 

Some newer tools help companies promote strong social connections and a sense of belonging in the workspace. Tools for async communication at work can preserve team flexibility without sacrificing team connection. Teams are able to still communicate effectively and build relationships in a remote setting. Async video options will go even further to keep humanity front and center with communication at work.

Communication Matters

Good communication has proven time and time again to be one of the most critical components of a successful business. It not only impacts the bottom line, but it impacts someone’s sense of belonging and ultimately their quality of work. While the science behind why and how we communicate might not always be clear, the results are. As we continue to move into and explore a world of remote work, it’s important for companies to remember: communication matters. Communication at work matters.


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