Belonging Doesn’t Solve for Discomfort

Jul 17, 2023 | All Blogs, Belonging, Belonging Series, Discomfort, Inclusion

This is the third and final post in our blog series about belonging. In these articles, we’ll explore what it means to add “Belonging” to DEI work, how we define belonging, how we know when we belong, and what happens when belonging is absent.


Sometimes work, including DEI work, is difficult. It’s always human and messy, but let’s be honest: there are times when work is unpleasant, draining, and frustrating. Even work we love. Because people aren’t perfect. There’s no solution to this part of being human. But we rely on the knowledge that feelings don’t last forever. 

DEI work doesn’t set out to make everyone feel good all the time. Belonging doesn’t mean feeling good. In fact, discomfort is often the first sign that DEI is working. It’s uncomfortable to confront ourselves and the differences in others. To experience cognitive dissonance between what we value and how we behave. To discover opposing world views and beliefs.

If we can sit with the discomfort, we discover that discomfort isn’t the problem at all. It’s denying, rejecting, or discharging the discomfort that harms ourselves and others.

There’s a discomfort paradox we see frequently in our work. Often, clients will experience deep listening and deep regard for their whole selves in a workplace for the first time during one of our sessions. And it feels really good to be seen and heard. It feels good to hold space for others to be seen and heard. Such connection is essential to our thriving, and people start to feel the beginnings of belonging. But then, we move into some difficult conversations. We encounter disagreements about company values or about what inclusion should look like. Suddenly, we feel like DEI is not working because conflict doesn’t feel very good. And all we want is that good feeling back. 

This is when people start reaching for solutions (sometimes trying to “fix” the term DEI) that don’t require working through the discomfort. Because we’re problem solvers. We’re good at fixing. But here’s another paradox that we emphasize: if our whole selves belong, then that has to include the unpleasant aspects of being human–we get tired, irritated, irrational, overwhelmed, sad, afraid, and so much more. All of it belongs. Belonging doesn’t just feel good. Belonging feels human.

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