The Science of Belonging with Jon Levy

September 9, 2022

The Science of Belonging with Jon Levy

September 9, 2022

About This Episode

Influence is one of the key factors that help businesses and entrepreneurs succeed. This is what our guest, Jon Levy, on today’s episode of Brilliant Thoughts, a SUCCESS magazine podcast, talked about with me today. Jon is a behavioral scientist, the founder of, and a New York Times bestselling author of the book, You’re Invited, where he dived deep into the science and art of how we can foster trust, connection to people, instill a sense of belonging, and build influence.

Using his knowledge from the latest research on human behavior, he has developed strategies that have helped companies (from Fortune 500 brands to startups) improve their approach to sales, marketing, engagement, and culture.

Let’s dive in.

Influence and Belonging

When it comes to influence, we need first to clarify what we mean. For a lot of people, influence means getting others to do stuff. However, as Jon points out, that can be considered manipulation. To him, influence means having the ability to impact an outcome or a person through your input, your opinion, or your products and/or services.

Jon says that “if we want to be influential, we just need to figure out how to connect with people, how to build trust quickly, and how to create that sense of belonging.” Belonging is a crucial aspect of being human. It is wired deeply into our DNA.

When it comes to survival as a species, humans rank pretty low in terms of raw characteristics—we did not survive because we were the fastest or the strongest, but because we learned how to work together, trust each other, share our resources, and build communities.

And in order to influence your audience, you need to be able to, as a leader, connect to people, and make them feel like they belong.

“If you are not connected to somebody, it is really tough to influence them,” Jon says. And being part of a group identity or a community amplifies that influence because groups tend to share what behavioral science calls “group consciousness” or “group speak.”

You also need to establish some form of command over the topic or credibility in your industry. How trustworthy are you and your opinions on a topic?

But when it comes to leading your team, one of the key factors is psychological safety: “The idea that you feel safe enough within a group that you won’t be kicked out or punished if you share an opposing view,” according to Jon.

Teams that perform at a high-level feel like they belong, and feel safe in that belonging. The fear of being kicked out or left out is rooted in our survival instinct. And it hinders our productivity and ability to work better as a team when that safety is compromised.

According to studies, a sense of belonging is not just about fulfilling the requirements or criteria to be part of a group, but also the feeling that we do belong.

“We're human beings. We're emotional. Then we justify our decisions, our emotional decisions with really bad logic. And so, feeling like we belong is where it's at,” Jon says.

There are four components to a sense of community according to McMillan and Chavis (1986): membership, influence, fulfillment of needs, and emotional connection.

There should be a clear definition of who is “in” the group and who is “outside.” One way we can represent that is through concrete means like having uniforms or IDs. If you aren’t wearing the same uniform or have a company ID, you are probably an outsider. The other way is more subtle, such as passing an exam or rites of passage or knowing the “language” that doctors or people in the Marines, for example, share.

It is also important for members of that group to feel that they have some influence in their community.

“…even though I might not have direct influence on the leader... My opinion matters. My voice is heard,” Jon explains.

The group’s goals and the individual member’s goals should also be aligned in order to fulfill a need. If a person is not interested in knitting, then they won’t feel part of a knitting group no matter how nice and welcoming the people in that community might be, because the individual’s goals don’t match the group’s.

And lastly, shared experience, history, and values are what tie a community together.

For entrepreneurs leading a team or an organization, it is important to ask, "Do my people feel like they belong? And do they feel safe to speak up and share their opinions without fear of being kicked out or punished? Is everyone aligned on where our organization is going? Are my employees clear on what our purpose and mission are?”

Influence and Social Media

When it comes to producing content that is influential, the important thing to consider is consistency, novelty, fluency, and cultural significance.

Consistency matters because your audience wants to know what to expect: how often you show up, what content they can find on your channel, website, or page, and how you communicate and behave. But they also want that novelty—getting something new and different that keeps your content interesting.

But what makes your content a cut above the rest is fluency and cultural significance. How easy is it to consume your content? Is it something that a grade-schooler can understand, or is it rocket science? And how remarkable is your content?

“Is it worth remarking about? Like, would you talk about it? Because if it's not worth talking about, then it's not culturally significant,” Jon says.

Content creators who can play to these criteria get ahead of their peers and competitors.

Culture is a vital aspect of this. When something is culturally significant and easily understandable, your audience will want to interact with you, and “literally everything spreads across a culture,” according to Jon. That is how trends are set, and that is how you create impact and influence.

The Three Pillars of Trust

Trust is another crucial factor in influence.

According to Jon, trust is built on three pillars: benevolence, honesty, and competence.

Of course, people want to know that a company they do business with can deliver on what they promised: quality of goods and services. Employees want to know that the leader they are following is credible and able. However, competence is something that can be improved over time.

Humans value honesty and integrity over competence and benevolence over honesty. When they can count on you to tell the truth, and when they are assured that you have their best interests at heart, people trust you.

…influence has the ability to have an impact on an outcome or a person,” Jon shares. “When you feel that you can trust me, you will opt into that influence.”

But a lot of people hear “influence” and closely relate it to manipulation. Manipulation happens, according to Jon, “when there's a misalignment between your honesty, your competence, and your benevolence.

That’s why it's important for leaders to lead with benevolence.

Jon also mentions two interesting psychological phenomena that help humans build trust. One is called the mere exposure effect. “When we see something day in, day out, we tend to like it, and we tend to trust it more,” Jon says. “That’s why we tend to like people who look like us.”

The other one is called the IKEA effect. It is the human tendency to care more about the stuff (objects, relationships, etc.) that we invest more effort into: that is why we care more about our Ikea furniture—because we put so much effort in assembling it ourselves.

As leaders, it is up to us to create opportunities that allow active participation from our team and help them be more invested in putting effort both into the business and in building relationships with their colleagues and the consumer.

That's how we are as people,” Jon says. “When we invest effort into a relationship, we end up caring more about it.”

The last important piece worth noting when it comes to building trust is that the basic unit of trust comes from vulnerability. “People think that trust precedes vulnerability. It doesn't,” Jon says. It is when people come to us showing vulnerability and we are able to acknowledge that and complete the loop, making them feel psychologically safe, that trust is built.

“As leaders, our job is to be on the lookout for when people signal vulnerability so that we can complete the loop. Or if we see that nobody is, it's on us to open up the vulnerability loop first,” Jon shares. We can be vulnerable to our teams and our employees without damaging our credibility. Simple acts such as saying, “Hey, I'm worried I might be missing something. Can you look at this?” or telling them how you overcame or realized some things throughout your career can be very effective in building trust.

That is why teams that feel safe psychologically tend to perform well and at a high level. There is a common misconception that when there is a sense of psychological safety in an organization or team, there is no conflict. But what studies have observed is, in fact, the opposite. When members of a team feel safe, they are willing to face conflict and say the things that need to be said, instead of just burying problems until they are too late.

Because they know they can be vulnerable with you or their colleagues without fear of being made fun of, punished, or kicked out.

Where to Follow Jon Levy

You can check out more about Jon and reach out to him through his website,

Follow him on social media, @JonLevyTLB, on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Get his book, You’re Invited on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all leading bookstores nationwide.

DISCLAIMER: The people interviewed are well-trained experts and highly skilled in their areas of practice. They take many safety precautions prior to attempting the activities described. The activities or research discussed in these podcasts should not be attempted without qualified supervision and training with professionals.

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