FYI Blog

Avalon Retreat Day Two: Belonging

DAY 2: Working Towards a Culture of Belonging

At Avalon’s latest all-staff retreat in Annapolis, we spent a memorable afternoon with Beth Ridley of Ridley Consulting Group to discuss what it means to feel a deep sense of belonging — at work and in our personal lives.

DEI = Leadership

Belonging speaks to a fundamental human need to feel part of something — that much has always been true. But workplaces began to think about belonging within a professional context as the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) movement evolved over the past few years following the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent conversations around race, class, and other identities that frame a person’s experience of the world.

Beth emphasized that DEI doesn’t exist in its own separate silo anymore; it’s baked into all we do. A complex world requires a multitude of different perspectives and challenges us to ask ourselves: Who isn’t at the table, and how can we make sure everyone has a seat?

The Four C’s

Belonging is built on something Beth calls the Four C’s: Comfort (the feeling of psychological safety), Connection (feeling tied to the work and to colleagues), Contribution (feeling like your ideas matter just as much as your coworker’s), and Commitment (shared motivation toward a common goal).

During Beth’s sessions, Avalonians broke into small groups to discuss the markers that make us all different — from the story behind our own names to the leaders who shaped us as direct marketing professionals today. As we identified these differences, we also saw through lines and connections that brought us to the same company and same causes we get to support through our work with clients.

The more we shared, the more we realized that what we have in common strengthens our connections — and learning how we’re different enriches our lives in beautiful ways.

“I’m Curious to Know…”

Learning by listening is incredibly important — so much so that we participated in a group exercise to practice being a more curious listener. Staff paired off and asked questions with a prompt of their partner, listening for two minutes with the only interruptions to ask for more detail from the speaker: “I’m curious to know…,” “Tell me more…,” and “Thanks for sharing.”

This exercise encouraged us to think about the questions we ask of others: “Am I asking this question to put you further in a box, or am I asking this question to gain more knowledge, help myself grow, and genuinely learn something new?”

It was a fascinating way to give everyone an equal platform to share their thoughts and perspectives — and a really simple practice to make our colleagues, clients, and vendor partners feel like they truly belong at the table.

At the end, all 60+ of us formed one large circle and shared one word about how we were feeling. As we went around the circle, there was a collective feeling of hope, connectedness, gratitude, and openness.