Outside an Inside Joke: The art of inclusion

I love inside jokes. I love knowing a person so well that we have ridiculous memories and sayings that bring back something goofy, important or significant. One might hear me say, “Oh MY, oh, OH My!” and not think twice about it. But if I say those words in front of one particular group of friends, hysterical laughter quickly follows. I could say, “I’m taking you to the forest,” and someone might think that I’m going to take someone on a trip into nature. When in fact, it has nothing to do with an actual forest, but a memory shared with a friend.

Inside jokes can make people laugh so hard that they cry. But I’ve seen inside jokes actually make people cry, because the inside joke confirms to the individual that they are actually on the outside. Our behavior has an impact on how welcoming we are to those around us. Our language most certainly speaks to whether a person is in or out. Jokes are just one form of exclusion or inclusion. Memories and jokes can make one person feel special, loved, remembered and confirm that they belong. While, the very same memory or joke shared can cause another to feel forgotten, not chosen and excluded.

As I seek to be a person of inclusion I’ve learned there are behaviors that I posses which exclude. It wasn’t until I started to pay attention to my behavior that I started to learn how to become a person of inclusion.

Here are a few things I’ve learned:

1. When talking to a group of people, share stories that everyone can relate or explain the stories where one or more is left out.

2. When wanting to create an inclusive conversation, seat yourself to be able to see each person in the group. When your back is to someone, you are unknowingly telling them that they don’t belong.

3. Ask questions of each person present.

4. Notice that people who get cut off because they are soft spoken or not as quick to share, speak their name and invite them to share.

5. Don’t make assumptions. If you are unsure is someone is following the conversation, pause it, and ask them if they know what it is you are talking about.

6. When introducing people to one another, always speak about why you’d like to connect the two individuals.

7. Be cautious when inviting people to a function in front of people who are not invited. If it is inevitable that you’d have to invite someone in front of someone not invited, make sure that the purpose of the event is stated in the invitation. Giving purpose, gives context and it helps the person not being invited to understand why they too didn’t receive an invitation.

9. Use language everyone understands or explain what is misunderstood. Be an interpreter!

10. Be generous with your attitude towards others. Ask that your vision be expanded to become more inclusive.

What are ways you’ve learned to help people know that they belong or are wanted? Do you think we need to be cautious of our language for the sake of others?

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