By Ursula Brinkmann, PhD


Groups in our Lives (© Intercultural Business Improvement b.v.)

Promoting Diversity

Drawing on social identity research, we have developed this exercise to make participants aware of how identification with a group can have positive and negative outcomes, and to encourage them to use the underlying dynamic consciously and constructively to promote the values of diversity in their own social life..

Intercultural competencies: Managing Uncertainty and Building Commitment

Participants better understand how stereotypes of out-group members develop and perpetuate. They learn how our need to belong to and identify with a group reduces uncertainty; and how they can use these same mechanisms to better relate to others, enjoy diversity and create trust between individuals, and within and between groups.

Group size: 4 – 40

Delivery mode: Offline and Online


Offline use: Groups in our Lives handout (see below), whiteboard/flipchart, black, red and green markers

Online use: Groups in our Lives handout (see below). Display of comments and colored marking via shared screen

Time: Approximately 30 minutes


Offline: Ask participants to work in dyads with the person sitting next to them (with one triad if uneven number of participants).

Online: Create breakout rooms for two participants, with arbitrary assignment of participants to groups

Part One

Ask participants to identify five groups of which they are both members, and five groups of which neither one of the two is a member. The groups may be both formal (e.g., a professional association) and informal (e.g., dog lovers) groups. Allow five minutes to complete the task.

Part Two

Ask participants to find properties for both types of groups. For example, a property of dog lovers could be that they go for a walk every day regardless of the weather. Make sure you give a neutral example of a group and its properties, that is, the example should neither suggest something positive or something negative about the group. This is to ensure that participants are not influenced in their search for properties when completing the exercise.

Participants may list one or more properties for one group, and also properties that apply to two or more groups at the same time. That is, no property needs to apply to all the groups on their lists. Be clear about this since otherwise participants will find it very difficult to list any property.

Allow again 5 minutes to complete the task.

Part Three (large group)

Ask participants to only name the properties they have identified for the groups of which they are both members, and the properties of groups where none of them is a member. State clearly that you are not interested in the groups that they found, only in the properties.

Write down the properties, using two separate columns (on the whiteboard/flipchart/shared screen) with a black pen. Then take a red and a green pen and announce that together, you’ll now mark the properties according to their positive and/or negative connotations (red for negative, green for positive).State clearly that a property can also be neutral or undetermined; in that case, leave it unmarked.


Start out by asking participants what insights they have gained.

In most cases, the in-group descriptors on their lists will tend to be positive whereas their out-group descriptors will tend to be neutral or even negative. This reflects the famous Similarity Attracts bias, a widespread tendency of individuals to feel attracted to those who are similar to themselves in terms of attitudes, values, beliefs, activity preferences, attractiveness, and personalities. The Similarity Attracts bias needs to be understood and managed if we want to include people who are not like us, if we want to increase, enjoy and benefit from (cultural) diversity at work and in our private lives.

As a trainer, use this insight to explain how in-group affiliation and a sense of belonging build our social identity; explain the emotional nature of in-group versus out-group distinctions, the development of stereotypes and the need/motivation to establish and maintain a positive self-image (via the groups to which we belong).

Then move on and invite participants to explore how they can pro-actively use the insights from the exercise to connect to people who don’t seem similar to them at first, how they can actively look for similarities with people who seem different and therefore less likeable at first – to make the Similarity Attracts bias work in the favour of diversity, and not against it.

The exercise and its associated handout can be used and reproduced free of charge for limited-use educational and training purposes with the below permission statement included and the format of the handout maintained.

The permission statement should read:
Reproduced with permission by Intercultural Business Improvement B.V. (Copyright © Intercultural Business Improvement B.V.).

The permission for reproduction is limited to small scale reproduction for educational and training events. Systematic and large-scale reproduction and distribution (more than 100 copies per event), inclusion in publications for sale, and reproduction by electronic means may be done only with prior written permission by Intercultural Business Improvement B.V.