Aké Satia is the Chief Vision Officer at Aké Satia, a Human Capital firm in the DC area focused on strengthening organizations by bolstering the intersection of people strategy and business strategy.



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Tribes, Language, and Belonging

This blog is one of the most exciting pieces I have written in a while!
I was thrilled to write it because it explores a realm, I am passionate about – the intersection of personal and professional life.
Notably, this is the first piece in a mini-series on The Impact of Language at Work.
This series excites me because it underscores the importance of themes we explored in the past, specifically leadership and organizational culture. As we know, creating great organizational cultures eludes many organizational leaders for several reasons. And we explored solutions in the Culture series: Your organization has a culture. What is it? – akesatia.com 

Today, we will explore a critical tool that directly impacts individuals personally and professionally: Language. Language is a powerful force. And it can have a positive or negative effect on individuals, society, and organizations. 

Humans and Tribes

Today, a term that has taken a life of its own is the tribe.
And this term comes up frequently whether you are reading an article online, listening to a podcast, or chatting with a friend. However, the common usage might lead one to wonder if it is just a new fad or if the meaning is truly understood.

Personally, the word tribe holds a special meaning.
Because when I was young and lived in Africa, I recall several references to a tribe. Often tribes referred to people from a specific geographical area who shared unique norms and interests.
But at other times, the term was referenced in the context of tribalism, also known as strong in-group loyalty. Tribalism Definition & Meaning – Merriam-Webster And the stories were often not positive.

You might recall news reports on the Hutu-Tutsi conflict that began in 1994. It was a conflict between two tribes that led to intense devastation and continued for 100 days. Rwandan genocide – Wikipedia Unfortunately, there are also additional instances where strife between tribes or ethnic groups has resulted in discrimination and warfare. Being privy to such situations as a child sensitized me to the reality that all groups including tribes can fulfill the need for togetherness. But the fierce sense of loyalty and excessive desire for self-preservation that enables groups to thrive can also lead to unspeakable pain for members within and outside the group.
And before we go further, it is worth understanding what a tribe is!

Tribes and Language

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the primary definition of a tribe is a social group composed chiefly of numerous families, clans, or generations having a shared ancestry and language. Tribe Definition & Meaning – Merriam-Webster
This definition reveals insight into what bonds the members of a tribe – a shared ancestry and language. Ancestry is one’s family or ethnic descent, and we are born into our ancestry. No person chooses their ancestry.

However, the other uniting factor for members of a tribe is language. And language is learned. While our place of birth or origin often determines the languages we understand and speak, it is possible to learn and master other languages.
With globalization, technological advancements, and developments in aviation, bilingualism is increasingly becoming the norm. And these developments and changes have a profound impact on individuals and cultures. – Today, half of the world’s population is bilingual. Half of the world is bilingual. What’s our problem? – The Washington Post

Also, relocating and traveling to new lands is a common phenomenon, whether for work or personal reasons. And as more people move away from their place of origin to seek new opportunities, they leave their tribes. – This creates a vacuum in their lives. And to fill the void, many seek other communities to join. In essence, they look for new tribes to which they can belong. And this is evident in social circles.

The Undeniable Need to Belong

Today, when most of us use the term: my tribe, we often mean a group of people with whom we feel a sense of oneness. And share some common beliefs such as hobbies, passions, and political or spiritual beliefs. We might hear someone say: I love my tribe. They have my back… They defend me, lovingly challenge me, and support me through challenging times.
Or you might hear a host fondly refer to the guests at a neighborhood BBQ as their tribe aka crew or posse. And there is a good reason for this: Finding and joining a tribe is a way to satisfy our undeniable human need for belonging.  

Now, I hear someone saying: I don’t know about that, Aké! Having a crew is nice and all! But I am independent and confident, and I like to stand out. It is hard to trust people, and I learned that lesson the hard way. Therefore, no matter where I go, I make things happen myself and in my way.
And to that, I say: Understandable! I also like to march to the beat of my own drum. And I bet many of us do as well! 😊 However, although we are each unique and desire to be appreciated just as we are, we are also terrified of being alone and becoming an island. Also, no one knows everything. Therefore, wherever we go, we look for others with whom we can connect.

And we see this happen all around us… After the first day of school, when a 15-year-old boy returns home and pleads with his mom to purchase a pair of Reebok Club C 85 Vintage shoes because that is what the kids he wants to befriend are wearing, he likely wants to dress like them so that he can be accepted.
Or when a new hire joins a company and trades in her Nokia 8.3 5G for an iPhone 14 Pro, because that is the phone her teammates and manager have, she is probably making that decision because she wants to belong.

Understanding the Intrinsic Need to Belong

Indeed, belonging is essential for survival. And over the years, many have worked to understand what is required for humans to survive and thrive. In other words, our needs and wants. – Perhaps you’ve heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

In 1943, an American psychologist, Abraham H. Maslow felt existing conditioning theories were inadequate because they did not adequately capture the complexity of human behavior. And as a remedy, he wrote a paper called A Theory of Human Motivation and invented the Hierarchy of Needs, commonly known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a hierarchical pyramid with five levels: the three lower levels include physiological needs. And the upper two levels include growth needs. 

Many have criticized Maslow’s theory. But a concept in the pyramid that is widely accepted is the intrinsic human need for belonging. And this includes the need for love, friendship, intimacy, family, etc. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – Learning Theories (learning-theories.com)

Belonging in the business arena

As in our personal lives, the need for belonging is also present in organizations.
One of the places we can spot this is in the recruiting process. After beating the streets to score a job, many candidates work hard to show they fit in the organization. – This could range from surfing the web and familiarizing oneself with the organization’s lingo or values to befriending current employees and investing in relationships.

Also, during the typical talent assessment process, after all the interviews and social gatherings, the interviewers or talent assessors converge to answer two main questions: First, does the candidate have the required skills to do the job? Second, will the candidate fit in our organization aka our organizational tribe? In other words, are they one of us? – Do they think like us, do they like what we like, and will they be able to speak our language?
And to foster unity and propel teamwork, organizations form tribes. A critical tool that gels a tribe is language. Therefore members of the organization use a common language. And it enables them to identify who belongs or fits in. 

At its best, the tribal language or the organization lingo, helps members get stuff done and feel a sense of camaraderie! And when things go awry, language is used to alienate, manipulate, and punish others.

In future blogs, we will explore some terms in social circles that have seeped into organizations. – These terms impact organizational culture, whether we realize it or not. And the aim of our exploration is to gain insight and recognize the impact of language on our lives – personally and professionally.

I look forward to exploring with you. And I hope you have a great week! 

For you and to you,



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