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A friend recently asked my opinion about an experience in her workplace.

Let me set the stage. Most of her organization is working remotely. The supervisor conducts meetings via Zoom and people spend time interacting virtually. At the end of the week, the supervisor has a late afternoon get-together to recap accomplishments for the week, set the focus for the following week, and wish everyone a good weekend.

Nowadays, the line separating work and home is very thin. An employee may be sitting in their dining room or kitchen conducting work. You probably see personal mementos including pictures, books, trophies, college or sports collectables, personal sayings, etc. You might even meet their dog Louie, cat Fluffy, or hear their little one in the background.

One week, the supervisor told the employees they could invite their spouse or partner to be included in the Friday virtual get together. The meeting was more casual, family and partners joined, and conversation seemed to flow easily. Everyone got to know each other and learned about their time away from work.

The following week, two women communicated to Human Resources and complained about the Friday meeting. The two women were single and did not have a spouse or partner to bring to the meeting, and they felt uncomfortable. They were the only people on the team who were solo.

You may be shaking your head and thinking, they are being too sensitive!

But, in an effort to be relational and inclusive, the outcome was just the opposite and this attempt at camaraderie created tension. The friend, who knew I did HR consulting, asked what I would do in this situation?

My response was that I would talk to the supervisor providing feedback and coaching. I believe he/she had positive intentions, but did not consider the impact his teambuilding attempt might have on some members of the team. This is an opportunity to broaden the supervisor’s awareness as this may be an unconscious bias on the supervisor’s part (more to come on this topic in the next blog). He/she may be married with a family and assumes that others are in the same situation or on the same path. The situation needs to be discussed to ensure a smooth path in the future. To follow-up, he/she should individually reach out to the two female employees and apologize for the attempt and unintended outcome.

Perhaps, the supervisor could have said, “I would like us to learn more about each other. Do you have any ideas how we can do this in an engaging and respectful manner?” Someone may recommend talking about favorite movies, music, or memories. Another may recommend having a get-together and introducing “special people” in our lives. This could include a spouse, partner, child, best friend, teacher, or pet. This may seem like a “kumbaya” approach, but it offers an opportunity to seek input, build camaraderie, and offer feedback.

The right understanding of any matter and a misunderstanding of the same matter do not wholly exclude each other. Franz Kafka

Consider that each of us live inside a framework that encompasses “what we know and the way we see things.” Outside of our circle is a world of information and insight.Google is one way we explore “outside of our circle.” When we encounter a new fact or bit of information on Google, our response may be “Interesting, I did not know that.”

Another way we expand our circle of awareness, is when we hear feedback about our behavior from a third party. Imagine that the supervisor was hearing the perception of exclusion from his single team members. He/she may become defensive and say, “I did not mean it, I was only trying to build a team.” If the supervisor listens to and internalizes the feedback, the circle of awareness expands, and he/she will think and act differently in the future.